Archbishop challenged on remedy for clergy error: Jones v Archbishop of Wales

Applications for inclusion on the new Electoral Roll for Church of England parishes closed on 31 March and arrangements are being put in place to hold the mandatory Annual Vestry and Parochial Church Meetings for the election of officers and members. The Electoral Roll forms the basis of the democratic process by which the Church of England is governed. These and other provisions regarding the representation of the laity are governed by the Church Representation Rules, (a.k.a.Schedule 3 to the Synodical Government Measure 1969, as amended).  The Church in Wales is subject to similar provisions within its Constitution, and Jones v Archbishop of Wales (unreported) [1] provides a timely reminder to all those involved in the conduct and regulation of elections to PCCs.to ensure strict adherence to the requirements.

Background

Within the Church in Wales, the Constitution limits the number of elected PCC members to 25, [Chapter 4C, Regulation 13(2)].  Nevertheless, an incumbent chose to ignore this seemingly unambiguous requirement and declared that all 34 candidates who had indicated their willingness to serve on the PCC were duly elected [2].  This constitutional irregularity was reported to the ordinary, who additionally was the Archbishop of Wales[3].

The Archbishop resolved the situation by using his powers under Regulation 5 of the Constitution, viz.

“If it is brought to the notice of the Diocesan Bishop that:

5.1 the Annual Vestry Meeting has not been held; or

5.2 Churchwardens, [PCC members], or the parochial representatives on the Diocesan Conference or the Deanery Conference have not been elected or appointed

the Bishop may appoint Churchwardens, [PCC members] or parochial representatives as the case may require …”

He therefore replaced the 34 irregularly-appointed PCC members with 15 new PCC members appointed by himself, (i.e. 10 fewer than the permitted maximum).  Parish electors were given the option of nominating the 15 new members to the Archbishop and a special vestry meeting was convened for the purpose. At this meeting, a vote was taken and the 15 candidates with the most votes were nominated to the Archbishop, who then appointed them to the PCC.

Mr Jones, a parishioner who was not one of the 34 PCC members, objected to the procedure that had been adopted by the Archbishop which he contended was unconstitutional, and whilst accepting that the constitutional irregularity, held that the matter should have been resolved by the Church court, which under the Constitution

 “  . . . . . . .shall have power to hear and determine … (b) complaints against Churchwardens and lay [PCC members] in their role as such, and disputes with regard to their election’ [Constitution, Chapter 9, s22].

He furthermore suggests that the irregularity “was not a very serious one” and the Archbishop’s draconian action, (i.e. effectively sacking 34 people”), should have been based upon “clear authority”.

Mr Jones did not accept the Archbishop’s view that Regulation 5 was engaged, on the grounds that this was in the nature of a default (or “lapse”) power, more appropriate to a “moribund parish [which] cannot be bothered to hold an Annual Vestry Meeting or elect a PCC” – a situation not borne out by the instant facts.  He further questioned the apparent duplication in routes by which such situations could be addressed: direct intervention by the ordinary, through Regulation 5; or recourse to the church Court through Chapter 9, s22.

Judgement

The Provincial Court rejected Mr Jones’s interpretation of Regulation 5 and supported the action of the Archbishop:

“We do not agree that the Regulation is to be construed in such a limited way. The words of the Regulation contain no such express limitation … Regulation 5 confers remedial powers upon the Diocesan Bishop where a parish has failed to fulfil its obligations, in this case with regard to the election of lay members of the PCC … a purposive construction of Regulation 5 lends no support to the restricted interpretation of the Regulation for which [Mr Jones] contends.’ (para 17).”

“‘The purported appointment of [the] 34 members of the PCC … was unconstitutional and its effect was that there were no lay members of the PCC able to take part and vote in its decisions without being liable to challenge on the ground that the PCC was not a properly constituted body.’ (para 18).”

With regard to the jurisdiction of the court in the matter, the Provincial Court accepted that ‘it would have been open for the [Archbishop] to bring a case in [the Church] court had he thought fit to do so’ (para 14). However, the Archbishop was not obliged to take this course, because

‘it was not necessary. He was empowered by Regulation 5 … to remedy the defective election. That being so it is unnecessary to consider what the result of an application to the [Church] court under Chapter 9, s.22 might have been’ (para 22).

Comment

The court’s decision now provides “clear authority” under which an ordinary may proceed under Regulation 5 in relation inter alia to PCC elections for the Church in Wales. Whilst the Diocesan court has the power to “hear and determine” such cases under Chapter 9, s22 of the Constitution, the Court made it clear that the decisions to bring such a case to the church Court would be that of the bishop, if he thinks so [4].

Nevertheless, there remain a number of unanswered questions: the existence of 34 parishioners willing to stand for election for a PCC could reflect either a very healthy parish or a highly politicized one, but in either case it is difficult to conceive how a group this size could form an effective decision-making body [5].  The Regulation 5 route chosen by the Archbishop ensured that he retained direct control for resolving the issue, and provided an example for other parishes tempted by the laissez-faire approach.


[1] A commentary of the case is given in Philip Jones’ Ecclesiastical Law blog, http://ecclesiasticallaw.wordpress.com/philip-jones/ to which he adds the caveat that he was the parishioner “Mr Jones” who brought the action. The case has not been reported elsewhere, and our comments are based upon this one source.

[2] Philip Jones notes “[the incumbent] retired shortly afterwards.”

[3] Unlike in the Church of England where the Archbishops are appointed by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister, the Archbishop of Wales is one of the six Welsh diocesan bishops and is elected to hold this office in addition to his own diocese.

[4] As may any Member of the Church in Wales regarding a dispute with named bodies within the diocese, s22(d)).

[5] In the Church of England, the maximum number of elected PCC members is dependent upon the numbers of the Electoral Role: 6 for ≤50 on electoral role; 9 for ≤100; and a further 3 for each 100/part thereof names, up to a maximum of 15.  [Church Representation Rules 14(1)(g)].

2 thoughts on “Archbishop challenged on remedy for clergy error: Jones v Archbishop of Wales

    • Thanks for the suggestion. However, whilst I like the proposed headline, I don’t think that it would be “search engine friendly”.
      dp

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.