CofE General Synod, Legal Issues

The full agenda for the meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England 5th – 8th July 2013 is published here, and copies of the papers on the issues discussed here.  Summaries and analyses of the debates are have been posted by Thinking Anglicans and others.  This post highlights specific legal issues that were discussed, although it should be noted that some of these are “work in progress”, and the sometimes Delphic nature of the reporting precludes a more detailed analysis at this stage.

Faculty Jurisdiction

A review of the faculty jurisdiction was one of the areas addressed by the Simplification Group of the Archbishop’s Council in GS 1048, which includes:

(i) the establishment of an agreed national list of minor works;

(ii) the establishment of an agreed national list of routine works which will require advice from the DAC and the approval of the Archdeacon, but do not need to go through the full faculty procedure;

(iii) a more streamlined application process from early advice stage through to the formal Petition with a more disciplined time frame for routine applications;

(iv) a move to an online form with a printed paper version available for those who are unable to access a computer;

(v) expanding the use of Statements of Significance accompanied by a Basic Information Form which will be stored electronically to build up a data base in each diocese, thus eliminating the need for repetition in future applications; and

(vi) a much shorter and more streamlined Petition Form.

The Synod considered the Faculty Jurisdictions Rules 2013, GS1887, and the associated Explanatory Note.  These incorporate a number of the above recommendations, and do not need primary legislation.  Synod agreed an amendment clarifying the nature of financial gifts to PCCs and approved the amended Rules which will come into force on 1 January 2014.

Draft Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure

At the 2012 General Synod, the Dean of the Arches and Auditor, Rt Worshipful Charles George noted [at page 85] that whilst “Miscellaneous Provisions Measures” are an essential way of progressing, they were “the bane of lawyers because it is extremely difficult to establish what the law is”.  He made the observation, which is equally applicable to the present Miscellaneous Provisions:

“I doubt that any of the lawyers in General Synod would profess to familiarity with more than one or two of the Measures which it is proposed to amend, and I suspect that there is no one outside Legal Office in Church House who is familiar with them all. It is quite beyond the resources of members of this Synod to find the relevant volumes of Halsbury’s Statutes to check the draughtsmanship”

Quite so.  The present rag-bag of changes in GS 1866A includes amendments to:

–  Ecclesiastical Commissioners Act 1840

–  Burial Act 1857

–  Episcopal Endowments and Stipends Measure 1943

–  Church Commissioners Measure 1947

–  Parochial Church Councils (Powers) Measure 1956

–  Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963

–  Faculty Jurisdiction Measure 1964

–  Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967

–  Synodical Government Measure 1969

–  Endowments and Glebe Measure 1976

–  Incumbents (Vacation of Benefices) Measure 1977

–  Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986

–  Care of Churches and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1991

–  Cathedrals Measure 1999

–  Tenure of office of vicars general and surrogates

–  Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure 2007

–  Power for chancellor to determine fees

–  Power for General Cemetery Company to dispose of whole or part of Kensal Green Cemetery

–  Provisions relating to Christ Church, Oxford

as well as some minor and consequential amendments.  Synod debated these and Draft Amending Canon No. 31, GS 1877A, and taking note of the report of the Revision Committee,  GS 1866Y-1877Y, considered the draft Measure and the draft Amending Canon clause by clause. A number of amendments consequential on earlier changes were accepted and the legislation now stands committed to the Steering Committee for final drafting.

We will discuss the proposed modifications to section 25 Burial 1875 in more detail when details of Synod’s amendments are published.


Synod debated the important issue of safeguarding and voted to acknowledge and apologize for past failures.  Synod also endorsed the proposed work on legislative and non-legislative changes with a view to tighten procedures, identified as a result of the Chichester Commissaries interim and final safeguarding reports, GS 1896.  Furthermore, the House of  Bishops and Archbishops’ Council have agreed to undertake a consultation on the proposed legislation over the course of the summer, with a view obtaining Final Approval during the present Quinquennium [1]. The proposed legislative measures include:

–  Removal of the 12 month limitation period for the bringing of complaints under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 in sexual abuse cases

–  Extending the bishop’s power of suspension under the CDM

–  Amending canon law so that clergy can be required to undergo risk assessments

–  Preventing prohibited and suspended clergy from robing

–  Extending the circumstances in which churchwardens and PCC members can be suspended and/or disqualified from holding office

–  Amending Canon C 8 – Of Ministers exercising their ministry.

Changes to the legislative framework already been approved by Synod are:

–  An amendment to the Code of Practice under the CDM to clarify when a complaint can be made under the Measure notwithstanding an acquittal in criminal proceedings; and

–  An amendment to the Clergy Discipline Rules made under the CDM so that victims will be able to withhold their contact details from respondents when making complaints

Women in the episcopate

A Church House Press Release announced that the General Synod has reaffirmed its commitment to women bishops and called for new draft legislation which will be considered in November 2013, with the view of reaching the stage of Final Approval in July or November 2015.  Subject to the agreed amendments 45 and 47, Synod agreed the proposals of the House of Bishops in GS 1886 by 319 votes to 84 that involved:

–  a measure and amending canon that made it lawful for women to become bishops;

–  the repeal of the statutory rights to pass Resolutions A and B under the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993, and the rescinding of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993; and

–  arrangements for those who, as a matter of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests, set out either in a declaration from the House of Bishops or in a new Act of Synod., based paragraphs 52-62 of the annex to GS 1886.

New Diocese of Leeds for West Yorkshire and The Dales

The draft reorganization scheme replacing the current Dioceses of Bradford, Ripon and Leeds, and Wakefield with a new Diocese of Leeds, created to serve West Yorkshire and The Dales was approved by Synod.  The background to the scheme with links to relevant documents is summarised here.  Whilst the Bradford and Ripon diocese were strongly in favour of the scheme, as were the two adjoining diocese of Sheffield and Blackburn, Wakefield was equally opposed, and the decision of the Archbishop of York to bring the scheme to the General Synod, despite the Wakefield rejection, is explained in GS Misc 1050.

The documents before Synod included: The Dioceses of Bradford, Ripon and Leeds and Wakefield Reorganisation Scheme 201-, GS 1898, made under section 7 of the Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure 2007; an Explanatory Memorandum and Covering Note; and a Resolution establishing transitional Vacancy in See Committee for the Diocese of Leeds, GS 1899 The reorganisation involves inter alia:

–  dissolving the existing dioceses of Bradford, Ripon and Leeds, and Wakefield and establishes a single new diocese of Leeds

–  retaining the three existing cathedrals of Bradford, Ripon and Wakefield as cathedrals of the new diocese, and establishing present the parish church of Saint Peter, Leeds as the pro-cathedral in Leeds [2];

–  creating two new suffragan sees, and reorganising archdeaconries and deaneries’

–  making arrangements relating to patronage, property, ecclesiastical courts and other matters;

–  abolishing various offices in the dioceses that are to be dissolved and conferring rights to compensation

–  transfers a small number of parishes to two neighbouring dioceses of Sheffield and Blackburn.

Thinking Anglicans reports that Synod voted in favour of the scheme on a show of hands, and following a second vote on the establishment of a transitional Vacancy in See Committee, the process for nominating the first Bishop of Leeds may now commence.  The new diocese will come into existence on a day to be set by the Archbishop of York after the scheme has been confirmed by Her Majesty the Queen through an Order in Council.

[1] The Consultation is in the Annex of GS 1896, and responses should be sent to  by 30 September.

[2] Establishing a pro-cathedral involves designating a church as a ‘seat of the bishop’ and will functions as a centre of worship and mission and, in particular, of episcopal ministry. However, a pro-cathedral is not subject to the legal framework that applies specifically to cathedral churches, and the Scheme provides that the Parish Church of St Peter, Leeds will continue to be governed in the same manner as any other parish church.

3 thoughts on “CofE General Synod, Legal Issues

  1. Very grateful as always for all your work in law/religion minefield. Wd be even more grateful for comment on revision of Burial Act 1875. The current Fees Order and Measure has created serious legal, practical and financial difficulty for many parishes with open churchyards, without any consultation whatsoever. Trusting that this revision does not continue eases – but very doubtful.

  2. Thank you for your observations. In view of the interest shown by our readers in the 1857 Burial Act and section 25 licences in particular, I am in the process of drafting a post on these revisions, but given the issues in this particular law/religion minefield, I am trying to obtain more details regarding the background to the proposed change and what additional comments were made in Synod.

    It appears that sub-paragraph concerning cathedrals was inserted since the Ministry of Justice interpret the legislation on consecrated ground as that falling within the faculty jurisdiction, and since this doesn’t apply to cathedrals, a section 25 licence is required for an exhumation.

    However, whilst the draft presented to Synod appears to cover this issue, it seems to raise other problems, and does not provide a solution to other legal difficulties in this area.

    The churchyard of SS Peter and Paul, Wantage, was closed by Order in 1881 and so I do not have any practical information on the problems created by the current Fees Order and Measure. I would therefore be pleased to hear more of the practical and financial difficulties this causes for parishes with open churchyards.

  3. Pingback: Law & Religion 2013 and 2014: retrospect and prospect | Law & Religion UK

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