‘A man of courage and conviction’: A tribute to religious liberty lawyer Tom Ellis Snr (1955-2023)

It is with deep sadness that we mark the recent passing of Tom Ellis Snr, aged 68.

Tom was a long-time friend of the Institute who worked with us on many of our most significant religious liberty cases. A thanksgiving service took place yesterday in Aughton, Lancashire.

He is survived by his wife Norah, their two children and six grandchildren. We remember them all in our prayers as we give thanks to God for Tom’s life and work.


The Institute’s Solicitor-Advocate Sam Webster has worked very closely with Tom for the last 15 years. In a statement he paid tribute to him as a man of “courage and conviction”.

“Tom was humble and generous, he always put the cause of Christ first in his work. Not only was he an excellent lawyer, he was a good friend to the Institute.

“He was enormous fun to work with on cases. His down to earth and positive manner and his ability to see the funny side of things could be a wonderful antidote in challenging situations.”

Early work

Tom Ellis was first involved with the Institute in 2006 when he acted for elderly Christian couple Joe and Helen Roberts in their successful claim against Lancashire Constabulary.

The case arose after the couple were subjected to 80 minutes of questioning by police officers for having telephoned their local council to express their disagreement with its ‘gay rights’ policy.

The case resulted in an out-of-court settlement in which the police and council both admitted they were wrong in how they treated the Roberts.

It was the Roberts’ case which led to the establishment of the Institute’s Legal Defence Fund.


Just two years on, Tom was involved in our case against Google which resulted in the tech giant agreeing to change its advertising policy on abortion worldwide. As a result, today Christian groups can still place factual and campaigning ads on abortion with Google.

In later years came the cases defending Christian bed and breakfast owners Peter and Hazelmary Bull, Bideford Town Council and, perhaps the LDF’s most cited case, Adrian Smith v Trafford Housing Trust.

In 2012, the High Court held that the demotion of Mr Smith, a housing manager and a Christian, for posting on his private Facebook page that same-sex weddings in churches would be an “equality too far”, was unlawful. This was a crucial victory for free speech in the workplace context.

Tom also acted on a large number of wrongful arrest claims brought on behalf of Christian street preachers. These included for Anthony Rollins, John Craven and Dale Mcalpine.

Religious liberty

More recently, Tom acted for Cornerstone (North East) Adoption and Fostering Service in challenging an Ofsted report which in 2019 downgraded the charity’s fostering service on account of its policy for recruiting foster carers.

And he was instrumental to the successful religious discrimination claims brought by Kenneth Ferguson and Stirling Free Church against The Robertson Trust, Scotland’s largest grant making trust.

The Trust removed Kenneth from his position as CEO and terminated the church’s contract to use one of its buildings because of their views on same-sex marriage.

British Airways

There were other significant cases, not connected to The Christian Institute, in which Tom helped secure a positive outcome for gospel freedom.

Tom acted for Nadia Eweida, a member of British Airways (BA) staff who had been prevented by BA policy from wearing a cross at work. The judgment of the Strasbourg court in Eweida and others v United Kingdom led to important changes in how the UK courts interpret discrimination law.

And he successfully spearheaded a religious discrimination claim on behalf of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association after an evangelistic rally at the Glasgow Hydro, part of a UK tour by Franklin Graham in 2020, was cancelled.

This followed fast on the heels of successfully suing Blackpool Borough Council and Blackpool Transport Services after bus adverts promoting an event at which Mr Graham was to speak were pulled.

Tom and his son, also Tom, ran the firm Ai Law based out of their Liverpool office.