A father and son suspended from the Masons have lost their High Court challenge against the order’s hierarchy.
Stewart and Brian Hood were seeking to have the sanctions against them declared void amid claims that disciplinary rules were not properly followed.
But a judge held that the organisation’s investigation was entitled to bypass their provincial grand lodge in Antrim to ensure no perception of bias.
Mr Justice Weatherup pointed out: “In effect there was civil war within the province.”
Action was taken against them following a disputed proposal to sell the Mason’s headquarters in Belfast city centre.
The Hoods were suspended in 2009 on a charge of “unmasonic conduct”.
They were alleged to have made discourteous and disparaging remarks against senior members within their area.
As the father and son sought a ruling which could see them reinstated at their lodge in Templepatrick, procedures adopted by the organisation were set out in court.
They argued that rather than going to the Dublin-based Grand Lodge of Masons in Ireland, the matter should have been dealt with at provincial level in Antrim.
Brian Hood, who brought the case along with his father, claimed in court he was “effectively gagged” after forming part of a retention team which put forward an alternative to selling the Masonic hall in central Belfast.
The building, on Rosemary Street, features a mural by renowned Irish artist John Luke.
Mr Hood, 48, told the court how he had been a member of the Masons from the age of 21, drawing “great comradeship” from an order which would provide security for his family in the event of any illness or death.
He claimed, however, that a dispute then developed between the retention team and others in the Provincial Grand Lodge of Antrim.
It was allegedly based on a board of general purpose deciding to endorse the alternative to selling off the Rosemary Street headquarters.
Seven Provincial Grand Lodge officials were involved in the unmasonic conduct charge.
In his ruling Mr Justice Weatherup accepted there had been deviation from the organisations laws.
But he said it was faced with a dilemma because normal procedures would have meant the investigation against the Hoods being overseen by the same officials who made the complaint against them.
“There would have been grounds for a complaint of procedural fairness and there would have been a perception of bias,” the judge held.
All other grounds of challenge were also rejected.
Mr Justice Weatherup confirmed: “I’m not satisfied that the plaintiffs have established any breach of contract and I find for the defendants.”
A spokesman for the Grand Lodge of Freemasons of Ireland welcomed and verdict and expressed regret that members had taken legal action.
He said the organisation now wanted to move forward in a positive manner.