Why the Supreme Court’s decision in Preston is conceptually confused

Cloisters’ barrister Sarah Fraser Butlin considers the Supreme Court’s decision which held that there was no employment contract between the Methodist Church and its minister. Read Sarah’s commentary in November’s Industrial Law Journal.


This paper considers the case of The President of the Methodist Conference v Preston and suggests that the decision of the majority is conceptually confused. I have two criticisms of the decision.

First, the majority did not apply the conventional approach to commercial contracts. They did not explore properly the two tiers of arrangements that were in play, namely the arrangement between Ms Preston and the Church and then separately, the arrangement between Ms Preston and the Redruth circuit.

Secondly, the hybrid nature of an employment contract being one of contract and employment is not disentangled. When considering the arrangement between Ms Preston and the Redruth circuit, the majority did not consider sufficiently the particular nature of the underlying relationship. It is briefly suggested that this conceptual confusion between the relative significance of the relational nature of employment contracts is one which is reflected in several of the recent important cases dealing with the contractual aspects of employment relationships. Preston represents a missed opportunity to get to grips with the difficult issue of where the emphasis should be placed.


The facts in this case were simple. A Methodist minister took up a role on the Redruth circuit. After approximately two years, performance concerns arose. It was alleged that the Church reorganised the circuits to make any investigation of the complaints impossible and effectively organised Ms Preston’s post out of existence. She resigned and sought to claim constructive dismissal. A preliminary point arose as to whether the Tribunal had jurisdiction to hear the complaint and specifically whether she was an employee. They held that she was not, but the EAT reversed that decision and this was upheld by the Court of Appeal.


The majority judgment, written by Lord Sumption, held that Ms Preston was not an employee. They considered that …

For the full article see:

‘The Missed Opportunity of President of the Methodist Conference v Preston’ Industrial Law Journal (November 6, 2014).

Or go to Industrial Law Journal :  [Full Text of this Article]