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Graham and Abigail Blackburn, beekeepers who run Cornish Moorland Honey, fiercely objected when HMRC insisted they file VAT returns online. The couple, devout members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, view the internet as an intrusion of 'worldliness' into their lives of 'righteousness'.

But a tax tribunal has ruled that its treatment of Mr and Mrs Blackburn violated their human rights. The couple had told the court that the contents of some websites were 'contrary to the Bible's teachings' and he wanted to 'protect his children from bad influences'.

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 prohibit its members from using the internet, merely encouraging them to avoid 'unwholesome' or 'sordid' influences. Indeed, the church has its own website. But the judge 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 an expression of their fundamental religious beliefs. 'I find that, by entirely shunning computers, the Blackburns 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 concluded.