Giving the unanimous written verdict of the three judges, Sir Peter said: "A conscientious mason will, if anything, bring to the office of jurat [the Guernsey name for a juror] another degree of probity that will enhance not detract from that office."
The court was asked to rule on an application to discover if a majority of the jurats who sat on a 1994 civil action were members of the secretive order. There are some 475,000 Freemasons in the United Kingdom. The plaintiff demanded to know if the defendants, their relations and members of the jury were among their number.
Not only did the court dismiss the application, but it went further. The suggestion that masons owed a higher degree of duty to each other than to their fellow citizens was rejected by the judges. "It follows", Sir Peter said, "that even if all the jurats were masons their obligations as masons did not conflict with their duties as jurats ..."
In 1994, a court dismissed a claim brought by Vekaplast Windows, a double- glazing company, against a former director and his wife for misappropriating pounds 22,580. On appeal, Vekaplast said that it wanted to know if the jurors involved in the case were masons. Vekaplast suspected the father and brother of the former director's wife belonged to the same lodge as people on the jury.
It was argued, Sir Peter said, "that the influence of masonry was such that the jurats consciously or unconsciously showed bias".
Vekaplast's application was described by the Court of Appeal as "scandalous and vexatious". The judges said that in order to join one of Britain's 8,500 or so lodges, a recruit has to pass a range of tests and swear blood- curdling oaths. While masons did not owe a higher duty to each other, their oaths required them to display a greater degree of probity, the court maintained.
That interpretation was disputed last night by the Labour MP Chris Mullin, the member for Sunderland South, who sits on the Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs. The committee is shortly to commence the first parliamentary investigation of Freemasonry and the legal system. "The record shows that you can have less confidence on the whole in the probity of public officials who are Freemasons," he said.
English Freemasonry in its modern form was set up in 1717. Its ritual harks back to ancient Egypt, the Knights Templar and Pythagoras. Despite its links with charity, "the craft" has nevertheless been dogged by allegations of graft, corruption, bullying and back-scratching.
In the Channel Islands, where there are numerous masonic lodges, there was incredulity at the Court of Appeal's view. In Guernsey, where the pound notes are green, locals quoted a saying: "Why are Guernsey pound notes green? Because the masons pick them before they're ripe."
"I swear by Almighty God that I will faithfully try the defendant(s) and give (a) true verdict(s) according to the evidence."
After promising to keep the secrets of Freemasonry the initiate says the following:
"These several points I solemnly swear to observe, without evasion, equivocation, or mental reservation of any kind, under no less penalty, on the violation of any of them, than that of having my throat cut across, my tongue torn out by the root, and buried in the sand of the sea at low water mark, or a cable's length from the shore, where the tide regularly ebbs and flows twice in 24 hours, or the more effective punishment of being branded as a wilfully perjured individual, void of all moral worth, and totally unfit to be received into this worshipful Lodge, or any other warranted Lodge or society of men, who prize honour and virtue above the external advantages of rank and fortune. So help me, God, and keep me steadfast in this my Great and Solemn Obligation of an Entered Apprentice Freemason.Reuse content