Sukhbinder Singh Sandhu v Tarsem Singh

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
JudgeSimon Barker
Judgment Date28 March 2018
Neutral Citation[2018] EWHC 712 (Ch)
CourtChancery Division
Docket NumberCLAIM NO B30BM419
Date28 March 2018

[2018] EWHC 712 (Ch)





His Honour Judge Simon Barker QC sitting as a Judge of the High Court


(1) Sukhbinder Singh Sandhu
(2) Surjit Singh Mattu
(3) Ajit Singh Brainch
Part 20 Claimants
(1) Tarsem Singh
(2) Manjit Singh Boparai
(3) The Charity Commission
(4) Her Majesty's Attorney General
Part 20 Defendants

Mr Avtar Khangure QC, instructed by Aspect Law Limited, appeared for the Part 20 Claimants

Mr Harpreet Giani, instructed by Sahota Solicitors, appeared for the First and Second Part 20 Defendants

The Third Part 20 Defendant and the Fourth Part 20 Defendant were not represented and did not appear

Hearing dates 4–8 and 11–15 September 2017

I direct that pursuant to CPR 39APD6 paragraph 6.1 no tape recording shall be made of this judgment and that copies of this version shall stand as authentic and be treated as the official transcript

HHJ Simon Barker QC:



This action concerns the validity of the election, in May 2015, of the Management Committee (‘MC’) at the Guru Nanak Gurdwara (‘the GNG’), which is a Sikh Temple at Sedgley Street, Wolverhampton.


The GNG is an unincorporated association and registered charity. The GNG's aims and objectives are declared in a written constitution (‘the Constitution’). The Constitution also provides for the GNG's administration and management, including the process by which the MC is to be elected. The Constitution was lodged with the Charity Commission in June 1983 and was amended in November 1992.


The correct meaning and effect of the Constitution's provisions relating to elections and objections to elections is central to the substantive determination of these proceedings.


The proceedings have had a long and active procedural history. The proceedings began with an ex parte application for an injunction on 23.10.15. The procedural hearings culminated in a successful relief from sanctions application on 29.6.17 which resulted in the court reinstating the First and Second Part 20 Defendants' (collectively ‘Ds’) Part 20 defence and restoring their right to defend the Part 20 Claim. In the intervening period the court heard several interim applications. These included two hotly contested applications by which Ds (at that time claimants in the proceedings who had sought declaratory relief upholding the validity of the May 2015 elections) sought, unsuccessfully, to withdraw the issue of the validity of the May 2015 election from determination by the court and, thereby, to extract themselves from the terms of an interim consent order regulating their dealings with and accounting for the GNG's very substantial cash income and reserves. First, Ds contended that they had discontinued their claim as of right without needing the court's permission and, subsequently, they sought the court's permission to discontinue their claim. There was plainly a genuine dispute as to whether the May 2015 election was valid and whether there had been legitimate objection to the results in accordance with the Constitution. As Ds did not wish to continue the claim, the Part 20 Claimants (collectively ‘Cs’) were permitted to take over its advancement by way of Part 20 claim and the interim consent order was continued. It is not necessary, in this substantive judgment, to refer in any further detail to the procedural hearings and orders.


Mr Khangure QC, who appeared for Cs, relied on certain aspects of Ds' conduct in the litigation, for example in relation to disclosure and in disregard of court orders, including the consent order, as evidencing unreliability. Mr Giani, who appeared for Ds, acknowledged that his clients faced certain difficulties on this front but emphasised the importance of deciding the substantive issues by reference to the Constitution and the events directly relating to the 2015 election.


There is some factual background pre-dating the 2015 election which is relevant in that it helps to explain why this election should have given rise to intense disagreement between the GNG's officers and disharmony within the congregation. One issue in particular is whether reasonable adjustments were made for members of the congregation with physical impairments and elderly or infirm congregants wishing to worship at the GNG. The adjustments made resulted in them being unable to access parts of the GNG's building and, importantly, being provided with seating which was segregated and screened off from the main body of the congregation in the worship hall so that they should not be present before and seated above the level of the Guru Granth Sahib. This issue was live prior to the 2015 election and was the subject of separate proceedings under the Equality Act 2010. Those proceedings were also hard fought at procedural stages, which concluded with an appeal before HHJ Stacey in 2016, by which a District Judge's refusal to stay the proceedings was upheld, and a misconceived and unsuccessful attempt to subject that appeal decision to judicial review. The substantive issue is said to have been the subject of a compromise agreement but, as I understand it, there is ongoing disagreement about the arrangements to be made.


Reduced to its essence, the relevance of that issue to these proceedings is that Cs are part of or favour the section of the congregation which supports the making of reasonable adjustments by providing seating on the floor of the worship hall in the midst of the congregation notwithstanding that the provision of seating may result in certain congregants, when seated, being above the level of the Guru Granth Sahib; whereas Ds belong to or favour the section of the congregation which considers that reasonable arrangements had been made and would be made by providing seating or benches to the side of the worship hall and screening those seated from the main body of the congregation and the Guru Granth Sahib. This disagreement is but one, albeit a significant one, illustration of the division and disharmony within the GNG. There are other disputes, including as to the use of the GNG's funds. The officers and congregation are divided into two factions and the resultant disharmony has interrupted the orderly running of the GNG since mid 2014 at the latest.


Before turning to the relevant law and then the scheme by which the GNG is intended to operate under the Constitution, I shall address what the case is not about and then outline the issues for decision in this judgment.


Mr Giani submitted, in his closing submissions, that “ any sins” in the litigation have no bearing on the events of May 2015 and should have no bearing on the substantive outcome of these proceedings. Mr Giani emphasised that this case is not about the disability issue, which remains live within the GNG, not about what constitute reasonable adjustments for the frail and elderly wishing to worship at the GNG, not about the meaning of edicts issued by the Shromini Gurdwara Management Committee of Shri-Amritsar Punjab, not about issues of equality law, and not about altercations or disputes that may or may not have occurred at the GNG at or around the time of the 2015 election, further, and in particular, the court is not concerned with doctrinal matters of the Sikh faith. Mr Giani submitted that what does concern the court is (1) the election, in May 2015, of 5 Singhs to serve as the persons who elect the MC for a two year period 1 (‘5 Singhs’), in this case 2015–2017, (2) the election by the 5 Singhs of the 25 persons to serve on the MC for 2015–2017, and (3) whether the events of 2.5.15, 3.5.15, 3–9.5.15 and 10.5.15 conform with the requirements of the Constitution concerning and leading to the valid election of a MC. Mr Khangure QC agreed in large measure, but did submit that certain conduct before and during May 2015 is relevant to the substantive issues for decision following the trial and that the divide as to what constitutes reasonable adjustments was part of the background or context to the substantive issues in this case. I accept Mr Khangure QC's submission and view it as tempering the submissions of Mr Giani which, by that qualification, become reconcilable with those of Mr Khangure QC.


As to Cs' claim, the prayer for relief to their Part 20 claim seeks: (1) a declaration that the 5 Singhs and the current MC were not elected in accordance with the Constitution; (2) an order that the 5 Singhs and the current MC are forthwith removed from office; (3) an order, pursuant to the provision in the Constitution at (6) under the heading “The method of electing “ the board of five Sikhs2, that the Trustees do forthwith take over the administration of the GNG and do name 5 qualified Singhs as the election board within 4 weeks of the order; (4) an order that the new election board do select a new MC, in accordance with the Constitution, within 4 weeks thereof; and, (5) further or other relief and costs.


Mr Khangure QC and Mr Giani helpfully outlined the issues that arise for decision at trial. Having regard to their submissions, the list of issues for determination is:

(1) What are the requirements of the Constitution providing for the election a new MC?

(2) Was the election of 5 Singhs on 2.5.15 valid?

(3) On 3.5.15 did any member(s) of the congregation make any legitimate objection to one or more persons elected by the election board? If not and in default of legitimate objection then, were the 5 Sighs deemed recognised or accepted by the congregation (i.e. validly elected)?

(4) Did the 5 Singhs validly elect and appoint a new MC?

(5) On 10.5.15 did any member(s) of the congregation make any legitimate objection to one or more persons elected to the MC by the 5 Singhs? If not and in default of legitimate objection then, was the MC...

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1 cases
  • Sukhbinder Singh Sandhu v Tarsem Singh
    • United Kingdom
    • Chancery Division
    • 16 April 2018
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