Beekeepers win landmark legal ruling
In what many will view as a victory for a simpler way of life, staunchly religious beekeepers who shun computers, televisions and mobile phones have scored a landmark triumph over the taxman.
Graham and Abigail Blackburn, who run Cornish Moorland Honey, fiercely objected when Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) demanded that they file their VAT returns online.
The couple, devout members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, are convinced Christ's second coming is imminent and view the internet as an intrusion of worldliness into their lives of "righteousness".
Now, in a major embarrassment for HMRC, a tax tribunal has ruled that its treatment of Mr and Mrs Blackburn violated their human rights. Mr Blackburn told the first-tier tribunal that he and wife abjure the use of computers, the internet, televisions and mobile phones in their home.
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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 principled beekeeper from Bodmin said people were obsessed by their mobile phones – treating them as "idols" – and that the flood of electronic communications had "blinded the minds of non-believers", giving them no time for religion in their lives.
Most businesses have been required by law to file their VAT returns online since April last year, and HMRC lawyers argued that the couple's stance was "really a personal preference and not part of their religion."
Philip Woolfe, for the tax authorities, pointed out that the Seventh Day Adventist Church does not ban its members from using the internet – merely extolling them to avoid "unwholesome or sordid" influences in the mass media – and in fact has its own website.
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, enshrined in Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
She said the couple's decision not to use computers was more than just a preference to keep "bad" content out of their home and away from their children but was an expression of their fundamental religious beliefs.
Justifications put forward by HMRC for refusing to exempt the couple were "clearly insufficient", she concluded.