18 December 2013, The Tablet

Priest to sue Church for unfair dismissal

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A Scottish Catholic priest has been given the green light to sue the Church for unfair dismissal.

Fr Patrick Lawson, who ran two parishes in Galston, Ayrshire, has been granted legal aid to take his case to an employment tribunal, after being removed from his post. The removal followed Fr Lawson’s long-time call for action to be taken against a priest he accused of sexual abuse.

Cameron Fyfe, the lawyer representing Fr Lawson, said that it was a potentially “historic case”. He confirmed that an application had been lodged on Fr Lawson’s behalf and said that the case could set a precedent.

Fr Lawson, who is suffering from cancer, was removed by the Bishop of Galloway, John Cunningham. He is also challenging his removal in canon law.

The main civil legal issue centres on the right of a priest to take a case to an employment tribunal. The Scottish Bishops’ Conference spokesman said that it would be “inappropriate” for Fr Lawson’s case to be heard by the tribunal, the relationship between priest and diocese not being that of employee and employer.

Last year the Court of Appeal ruled that the Diocese of Portsmouth was liable to pay compensation for alleged sexual abuse by a priest because the relationship of priest and bishop was “close enough” to the employer-employee relationship to make the diocese liable.

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