In this article, Peter Hill discusses the history of the Methodist Church’s exemptions from human rights legislation and its unfortunate implications for the current allegations of misogyny inside the Church. He suggests some possible amendments to human rights legislation to clarify the situation.

In 2006 Meg Munn, as the Minister for Equality, introduced the first Equality Bill into the Commons. It was an important addition to the human rights legislation that the Blair government had begun introducing eight years before. As with the Human Rights Act, there were several exemptions in the Bill which were designed to protect religious organisations.

For some neutral commentators the exemptions in the Bill were a step too far. They allowed for religious organisations to discriminate according to professed faith.  Even normally conservative Roman Catholic bishops insisted that unjust discrimination is fundamentally wrong - implying that the exemptions had gone too far.

When other churches, such as the Methodist Church,  defended their special status,  critics accused them of wanting to define their requirements for membership  in accordance with an arbitrary whim. The exemptions enjoyed by religious organisations meant that they could  discriminate according to their own standards and rules – outside the standards of the new law.

To many this made sense. After all, could someone not born a Jew attend a synagogue regularly. without converting to Judaism? Church authorities argued that if a religious organisation welcomed someone into its ranks,  then such a person needed to be a member of the relevant faith. Further, it was therefore reasonable that, in deciding whether to employ someone, the church might take into account marital history or general morality. In other words it would be lawful for a religious organisation to discriminate against someone on almost any grounds.

Commenting on this situation in 2007, Professor Maleiha Malik, of Kings College University in London, a leading legal authority in human rights and discrimination, wrote :

“The way the exemptions strike the balance between the rights of organised religion to discriminate and the rights of individuals to be free from discrimination is deeply unfair. It gives too much power to organised religions to police their internal members.”


Simon Sarmiento, the GUARDIAN’s religious correspondent commented:

“A lot of people will agree with that sentiment.”

However, there was a further question when it came to the Methodist Church. Did the Methodist Church have, in its dwindling ranks, enough members with the necessary education and expertise to lawfully and responsibly wield such power? Did enough members understand the principles of human rights legislation to adequately run the disciplinary system?


There was a further problem with human rights in 2013, when the Methodist Church successfully argued in the Supreme Court that ministers in the Church were not actually employed by the Church. Some considered that the exemptions had allowed this to happen.

This decision discriminated against all Methodist ministers by taking from them the last direct link they had to any tribunal which adhered to the Human Rights Act. They were left with a simple guideline to the Standing Orders.

The guideline was written by the eminent Methodist and Judge,  Clifford Bellamy in 2002. His interpretation, adopted by Conference,  stated that the Human Rights Act was “best practice”.

Such "best practice" was not, however, compulsory. It was mere "guidance". There were no  sanctions put in place should anyone not follow "best practice". It meant that the exemptions gave power to disciplinary panel members without responsibility for any mistakes or aberrations in what they did in the name of the Church.

It led to incidents which Bellamy could never have contemplated.

In 2015, the review by Jane Stacey of sex abuse in the Methodist Church revealed that some 206 cases of such criminality involving ministers had been judged and decided by persons - mainly non-lawyers - who had no duty to adhere to either the Human Rights Act or the Equality Act. Nor could their decisions be appealed on such grounds.

It meant that over 400 members of the Church - suspects and accusers  - had gone through a trial process without the benefit of Article 6 of the Human Rights Act - the right to fair trial process. This was a prime example of what many thought was the “exemption too far”.

Is this of real concern to the ordinary Methodist member?  After all, members of connexional panels are, surely,  fair-minded? They may not know the law, but they can act in a reasonable, and indeed lawful, manner. Can we not trust the Church in that?

Not always.  In 2016, the case of Rev. Peter Timms demonstrated the importance of Professor Malik’s view that the exemptions in human rights legislation gives too much power to organised religions to police their internal members.

There were other such cases, but the Timms case proved to be a clear example of the overweening powers of the Church – and proof that the Church authorities cannot be trusted to be fair.

The government legislators, indeed the eminent Methodist members who drew up guidelines to the Standing Orders, could not have contemplated actions such as occurred in the Timms case.

The main act of wrongdoing against Timms,  the issuance of a false confession, was a prime example of the evil that the exemptions allow. Furthermore, it occurred at the very beginning of the case – polluting the entire dispute that came after it.

The case ended several years later with Peter Timms being removed from the ministry because he refused to sign the offensive document.

In disputes in any secular organisation this would have constituted a clear breach of Article 6 of the Human Rights Act.

This hapless minister was sent a statement, which, if he had signed it, would have constituted an admission to having breached an important standing order of the Church. This was followed up by a further five coercive demands that he sign it.  He was threatened with dire consequences if he did not admit his guilt to the unspecified accusation. Coercion is a crime against human dignity and is actionable in law.

Making matters even worse, some of the coercive demands sent to him were actually modified by captious summary of the original document. These summaries suggested that the confession document referred to  conduct in the future. In fact the original document which he was being coerced into signing referred to alleged  conduct in the past.

The admission of guilt that was being demanded would have destroyed the thrust of the three complaints that Timms had lodged with Church House.

This completely unreasonable behaviour was committed on behalf of the Church by persons with little or no legal training in human rights legislation. No one has been sanctioned in any way. The case demonstrates just how far the Church is protected by the exemptions with regard to human rights.

The Timms case is  a prime example of Church executives wielding  power without responsibility.

Even just before Conference decided to eject Timms from the ministry, he was again coerced into accepting the document.

He was told that if he shut up and accepted the false confession, Conference would not take such dire action against him.

This was the final act of coercion – an action  which is totally contrary to the Human Rights Act, which, in its official guidelines,  the Methodist Church claims is  “best practice”.

Rev Timms bravely dug his heels in throughout. He stood by what he considered to be the right way to run a judicial process. He defended the Church that he had joined many decades ago: he did not accept the current corrupt model.

His friends considered that the power granted to the Church by the exemptions to human rights legislation was unjust – even by the Church’s own standards.   Rev Timms’ dignity as a human being was being completely ignored by the Church. His reputation was besmirched.

And so, in 2023,  we come to the current cases of Rev Graham Thompson and his assistant Mr. Anthony Boateng.

Here we have the potential of two eminent Methodists being judged by the same ramshackle disciplinary system that so evilly dealt with Peter Timms. Unlike Timms, these two men are not lowly ministers.


Graham Thompson is a former President of the Methodist Church. He has been an important member of the Church for some three decades.


Anthony Boateng has a fine reputation because of his passion for social action, church unity, spiritual revival and creative ways of worship.

Are these men to be treated with the abandonment  of dignity, and a breach of Bellamy’s guidelines,  as Peter Timms was?

Although these cases are shrouded in the secrecy granted to religious bodies by the exemptions, The “Church Times” has stated that Mr. Boateng is being investigated about his behaviour. He denies any wrongdoing. Rev Thompson is facing a separate investigation, supposedly related to his management and the handling of allegations made within the Church.

The very fact that their names have been published is sufficient to affect them for the rest of their lives. Mud sticks.

Hayley Preston suffered  from mud that was thrown at her anonymously in Truro - it led to five years of dispute. She left the Church.


Joanne Archer-Siddall suffered similar abuse in South Yorkshire.

She left the Church


The mud thrown at Rev Peter Timms included several  criminal accusations which had no basis in fact at all. They were swiftly dropped when challenged. He continues to fight to stay in the Church.


These latest investigations into Rev Thompson and Mr Boateng  appear to stem from Meg Munn’s secret report to Conference about misogyny in the Church.  If this is so, then the women involved may expect  a very rough ride.

After all, that is what both Hayley Preston and Joanne Archer-Siddall suffered when they dared to question the power of the Church. Both of these hard-working ministers ultimately left the Church because of the outrageous treatment they received.  

The central point of Meg Munn’s 2023 report is that misogyny is rampant within the Methodist Church. According to a journalist on the “Christian Times” who has read the report, the Methodist Church is not "seen as a safe place" by many women.


It follows that, since the disciplinary system is largely run by men, any women involved in proceedings may again find themselves victims of misogyny and unfair trial procedure. Ultimately, however, like the two eminent men currently being investigated, the women making the complaints  will be at the mercy of a vicious and totally incompetent  disciplinary system. It is a system which is geared to preserving the reputations of those in power, rather than anything else.

It seems that neither side in this dispute will be able to rely on any rights granted to normal citizens by the government’s human rights legislation.


Jonathan Hustler’s response to all this is to ask for our prayers for everyone in these difficult situations at this time. He adds that some may feel hurt by the actions or inactions on the part of the Church.

This smells of hypocrisy. The action, or inaction, he refers to, is actually down to Jonathan Hustler himself. He has been Secretary to Conference throughout the period when these scandalous events are said to have taken place.


However, instead of blaming himself in any way, Jonathan Hustler asks for our prayers. He further adds that we should pray for those (perhaps such as the writers of this website) who have raised concerns about adherence to human rights legislation inside the Church.

He should reflect on how long ago such concerns about the disciplinary system were first raised with him, for they are the heart of the present problem. 

In the Timms case he was told some seven years ago that fair trial process was not being followed. Timms was actually told by a senior member of the Church that the Bellamy guideline (that the Human Rights Act is “best practice”)  was out of date! Did Jonathan Hustler sanction this? When was that decision passed by Conference?


Jonathan Hustler was also informed two years ago of the outrageous situation when the leader of the disciplinary panel, which found against Timms, failed to recuse himself even though  one the parties involved in the dispute was a close colleague of his.


How many times does Jonathan Hustler need to be told of the canker inside the Methodist Church?  It is an open secret that connexional panel members can run riot inside the secret system – covered, as they are, by government exemptions.


Jonathan Hustler has totally given in to the mandarins who actually run the Methodist Church. And yet he witnessed at first hand his predecessor’s attempts (notably  in the 2015 publication “Positive Working Together” )  to correct the imbalance that had sprung up within the Church since the exemptions were introduced.  


Jonathan Hustler stood by as Gareth Powell martyred himself in this cause – and he did nothing to help. Now he asks for our prayers.


We now see the sorry situation in which the two men currently under scrutiny find themselves. They actually presided over the ill-founded disciplinary procedures that are now being used to investigate them.

They are already getting the unfair treatment that was shown up in the Timms case.   Apparently, the cases that have caused them to be investigated concern unknown charges made by unknown persons against these two eminent members of the Methodist Church.

Anthony Boateng is, according to the “Times”, threatening legal action against the Church. This may ruin him financially  - and he can have little hope of success.
He will be faced with high-priced lawyers.

If the allegation against him is discrimination, as seems possible, given the proximity of the investigation to the Meg Munn  review (detailed elsewhere on this website),  then his best policy would certainly be to somehow get the investigation and subsequent judgement out of the Church – and before the Equality and Human Rights Commission.


He may be able to do this by arguing that he, and his superior, Rev Thomson, are being discriminated against by the Methodist Church. He will need to attack the “fairness” of the exemptions. He should call Professor Malik at King’s College, as a witness to this.

One argument about inherent unfairness might be based on the fact that the names of the two men have been released by the Methodist Church, while their accusers enjoy anonymity.

Of course, the Church’s expensive lawyers will argue that such is the situation in civil courts with accusations of rape. However, that, of course, only applies to cases in our secular courts.  The power given to the Church by the exemptions means that the Church should  abide by its own Standing Orders. After all, do not the Standing Orders demand  “openness” as a general and over-riding principle?

The sad truth is that the ability to publish names, or not to publish them, allows the Church to have "leverage" over those in the disciplinary and complaints system - and leverage is one of Church House's favourite tactics.

It seems clear that to name the accused,  but not the accuser (as happened of course in the Timms case)  is contrary to the Church’s Standing Orders.

Anthony Boateng may well argue more generally that the Church cannot investigate him, nor discipline him, because of the inherent unfairness in the Complaints and Disciplinary procedures - in that it cannot be operated properly.  He could find many witnesses to testify to this.

Discrimination cases are frequently what lawyers term “he said - she said” cases. The outcome of such often depends upon the professionalism of the judge in the case - because such cases are conducted within the judicial system  of  “the balance of probabilities.”

This could form the basis of a charge of inherent unfairness in the Methodist Church’s Complaints and Disciplinary procedures – protected, as  they are,  by the exemptions granted by the government..

The Methodist Church insists that disciplinary cases must  been judged by the system of the balance of probabilities. But is the Church  capable of carrying out this ruling?

In the Peter Timms case, the leader of the Connexional complaints panel claimed to be using the system of the balance of probabilities. However, he clearly did not have the foggiest idea of how that judicial system works. He seemed to think that his own biased assessment -  formed as it was in anger because of mistakes he had already made during the investigation -  was sufficient.

The outcome demonstrated that the panel leader had exercised power without responsibility. The exemptions allow the Church to do exactly that -  but this can hardly have been the government's intention when the Human Rights Act was introduced.


Although this powerful leader of the connexional panel was, by profession, a magistrate, he did not appear to realise that the system of the balance of probabilities required him to assess the probity of all the evidence - from both sides of the argument  - before reaching a balance.

The way in which he acted is not how the system of the balance of probabilities is supposed to work.   It is an amateur’s interpretation of the judicial system.  Anthony Boateng would be well-advised to stay well  away from it - for the Methodist Church’s interpretation of this judicial system is not fit for purpose.


If Anthony Boateng is expecting to rely upon the ramshackle system of justice within the Methodist Church he may soon join the ranks of those who wish that the horizontal reach of the Human Rights Act  might cover the Church’s Complaints and Disciplinary procedures.

This question  - of how far the new legislation should reach into the private areas of church matters  - was left largely unexplored when the Human Rights Bill was debated. One supposed reason for this was that the matter was currently being hotly debated in Europe – where there is a wider range of religious organisations than in Britain. The UK may have wished to see what happened in Europe before making a decision.

Nevertheless, the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, included among the functions that he anticipated would be regarded as “private” under the HRA and thus exempt:

“the regulation of divine worship, the administration of the sacrament, admission to church membership or to the priesthood and decisions of parochial church councils about the running of the parish church”.

Significantly,  Jack Straw  did not include “Complaints and Disciplinary procedures” as being potentially “private” and thus exempt from the HRA. It may be that it was his understanding, or intention, that such would not be exempt from adherence to the HRA. Judge Clifford Bellamy's subsequent guideline on adherence to the HRA appears to support this view.

This question has never been settled: it should now be addressed.


The argument that such cases, as Meg Munn has raised, should be handled by the Equality Board is fundamentally strong.  It can be easily argued that both  the supposed malefactors  - and the unknown accusers and victims in the present scandals  - deserve a better system  of justice than the Methodist Church can provide. Discrimination is a serious matter and judgement on it cannot be left to good-hearted amateurs, for the reputation and careers of all those involved is at stake.


As for the fate of the current alleged victims of discrimination, it seems that the writing is on the wall. Someone, believing (with good reason) that this affair would be “hushed up” as usual,  deliberately leaked the Meg Munn report to the “Times” -  in the spirit of openness and to ensure that we all knew about it.  The Methodist Church immediately drew a large veil of secrecy over the affair.


The intention is clearly to settle the affair inside the Church. The objective is to uphold the reputation of the Church. The Methodist Church’s prime consideration is its reputation – and it is ready to do whatever it can to preserve that reputation.

Lies may be told to the public, or the full truth avoided,  as a consequence.

Consider the history of such affairs. That is what happened in 2015 with the sex abuse cases. No names were mentioned. The suspicion, even today, is that some ministers who were actually guilty were judged by their friends and remain in place. This is what appears to have happened in the infamous Hailsham case. A woman was driven to near distraction by the way in which that case was handled.


Church elders who covered up criminal actions of sex abuse in 2015 are no doubt prepared to cover up criminal actions now. The signs are already there.  


In secular life, employers may face a £5,000 fine for each case of such discrimination  – but of course the Methodist Church is exempt from such procedures. Further, of course, ministers such as Thompson and Boateng are not technically “employees” so they have no human rights whatsoever inside the Church.


If the victims of discrimination, in the guise of misogyny, seek true justice, they should ask organisations such as JUSTICE or  LIBERTY to find pro-bono lawyers who might best advise them. Further - Meg Munn will know of feminist organisations that will help.


Unless this issue of discrimination is debated outside the confines of Church House,  the curse of misogyny is likely to continue inside the Methodist Church – and women will continue to suffer.


Such may apply to other religious organisations. Each can interpret the exemptions to their own liking. Experts on the subject of  the exemptions to human rights legislation point to the inequality in the fact that one church might have different standards, principles and procedures to another Church. Differences in interpretation would seem to be inevitable. Justice in one church may not be justice in another.


Such anomalies need to be cleared up if we are all to have equal treatment from such church courts or disciplinary panels and tribunals. 


Those who framed the Human Rights Act anticipated that there might be such anomalies. They inserted a safeguard into the Bill, in case such injustices appeared when the Act met the reality of public life.

Section 4 of the Human Rights Act is about reviewing legislation. Section 3 of the Act requires anyone interpreting our laws to do so in a way that is compatible with human rights – whether they are a court, tribunal or public authority.


The Methodist Church states that the "best practice" in its Complaints and Disciplinary procedures is the European Convention - and thus the Human Rights Act. Such "best practice"  is, in fact, an interpretation of the Human Rights Act - and, according to Section 3 of the Act, it should be made in a manner that is compatible with human rights legislation.


One cannot dismiss the possibility that the domestic courts might now find that the composition and actions of  tribunals in the Methodist Church is not in accordance with Article 6(1) of the Human Rights Act - and issue a declaration of incompatibility under sections 3 &  4 of the  Act.


It could be argued that the Methodist Church interprets UK human rights legislation in a manner that is incompatible with human rights.


The core of this argument would be that the exemptions granted in the legislation, as applied by the Church, are incompatible with a Convention right.


The legal mechanism to correct this is already in place. The wording of the exemptions which favour religious bodies may need to be changed in order to ensure that the Methodist Complaints and Disciplinary Procedures adhere to the Human Rights Act. This would appear to be in accordance with the Home Secretary’s consideration in 1998 of the relevant clauses of the Act.


The participants in this current controversy should bear this in mind.






If you are shocked by the content of this article, please email

Rev Jonathan Hustler at:

for a contrary view.