Cornwall

Tax case win for Cornish religious beekeepers

A couple have won the right not to file online VAT returns for their honey business after claiming it was contrary to their religious beliefs.

Beekeepers Graham and Abigail Blackburn, from Cornwall, are members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and they reject using computers at home.

A tribunal ruled that by refusing an exemption the government had breached their right to manifest their religion.

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs said it was considering an appeal.

'Protect children'

Mr Blackburn told the First Tier Tribunal, at Bodmin Law Courts, that he and his wife rejected the use of computers, the internet, televisions and mobile phones in their home.

The contents of some TV programmes and websites were "contrary to the Bible's teachings" in his view and he wanted to "protect his children from bad influences".

The couple believe Christ's second coming is imminent and view the internet as an intrusion of "worldliness" into their lives of "righteousness".

Most businesses are required by law to file their VAT returns online, and HMRC lawyers argued the couple's refusal to do so was a personal preference and not part of their religion.

Human Rights 'breach'

However, Tribunal Judge Barbara Mosedale ruled that by refusing to exempt Mr and Mrs Blackburn from online filing, HMRC had breached their right to freely manifest their religion under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

She said: "I find that, by entirely shunning computers, they considered they were acting, as the Bible required them to do, in accordance with their religious conscience.

"They were manifesting their religious beliefs by refusing to use computers."

Justifications put forward by HMRC for refusing to exempt the couple were "clearly insufficient", she added.

The tribunal found in favour of the couple who run Cornish Moorland Honey, in Bodmin, on 2 October but judgement was only released earlier.

The tribunal verdict means the couple will now be permitted to file their VAT returns on paper, subject to any appeal by HMRC.

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