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JUDICIAL REVIEW AND STATUTORY APPEAL - Jurisdiction of the court to review

Thursday, May 31, 2018 @ 1:43 PM  

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Appeal by the Judicial Committee (Committee) of the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses (Congregation) from a judgment of the Alberta Court of Appeal affirming a decision by the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta concluding it had jurisdiction to consider Wall’s application for an order of certiorari that would quash the Committee’s decision to disfellowship him. Wall was a member of the Congregation until he was disfellowshipped by the Committee after he admitted that he had engaged in sinful behaviour and was considered to be insufficiently repentant. After Wall was unsuccessful in his appeal to the religious appeal committee claiming the decision affected his work as a realtor, he sought an order of certiorari from the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta to quash and declare void the Committee’s decision. The Court found it had jurisdiction over the matter. The Alberta Court of Appeal rejected the Congregation’s appeal and held that the courts could intervene in decisions of voluntary organizations concerning membership where property or civil rights were at issue. The central issue of the appeal was whether courts had jurisdiction to review the decisions of religious organizations where there were concerns about procedural fairness.

HELD: Appeal allowed. Judicial review was only available where there was an exercise of state authority and where that exercise was of a sufficiently public character. A public decision involved questions about the rule of law and the limits of an administrative decision maker’s exercise of power. Simply because a decision impacted a broad segment of the public did not mean that it was public in the administrative law sense of the term. Only the legality of state decision making called for judicial review. The Congregation had no constating private Act and was in no way exercising state authority. Jurisdiction could not be established on the sole basis that there was an alleged breach of natural justice, as claimed Wall. Furthermore, the dispute was not justiciable. Religious groups were free to determine their own membership and rules, and courts held no jurisdiction to intervene in such matters save when there was an underlying legal dispute.

Highwood Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses (Judicial Committee) v. Wall, [2018] S.C.J. No. 26, Supreme Court of Canada, B. McLachlin C.J. and R.S. Abella, M.J. Moldaver, A. Karakatsanis, R. Wagner, C. Gascon, S. Côté, R. Brown and M. Rowe JJ., May 31, 2018. Digest No. TLD-May282018011SCC