For the Church of England, midnight on 12 October 2013 marked an important milestone in the law relating to chancel repair liability, (CRL), and also other areas such as mineral rights. The former was brought to the public’s attention through the judgment of House of Lords in Wallbank & Anor v Parochial Church Council Of Aston Cantlow & Wilmcote With Billesley, Warwickshire  UKHL 37 . The Church of England describes CRL as “a long-standing and legally enforceable liability to repair – or to contribute to the cost of repair of – the chancel (usually the easternmost part) of a parish church”.
A consequence of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries was that a large amount of property acquired by the monasteries, which had formerly belonged to rectories, came into lay ownership. Under various Acts of Parliament, the new owners, referred to as “lay rectors”, held the land on the same terms as the former monastic owners which included an obligation to repair the chancel of the parish church. Formerly, CRL was only enforceable in the ecclesiastical courts, but following Hauxton Parochial Church Council v Stevens  Probate 240, the Chancel Repairs Act 1932 was passed to enforce the lay rector’s liability by conferring a civil jurisdiction on the secular courts, and placing responsibility for its enforcement on the PCC of the parish concerned.
The operation of the Act was examined in Wickhambrook Parochial Church Council (‘PCC’) v Croxford  2 King’s Bench 417 and upheld in Aston Cantlow in which Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead observed [at para.116],
“[i]t is plain from this conveyancing history that Mr and Mrs Wallbank acquired Glebe Farm, including Clanacre, with the knowledge that ownership might carry with it a liability to pay for repairs to the chancel of the parish church”.
However, whereas the financial burden to Mrs Croxford was £123.12s.6d, for which there was an associated tithe income of £39.11s.9d, the Wallbanks were liable for £95,260.84, [at current values, these liabilities equate to about £7,400 and £155,000].
There had been attempts at phasing out CRL: in February 1982, the General Synod of the Church of England overwhelmingly supported a motion approving a phasing out of chancel repair liability; and in 1985, the Law Commission published a paper on its reform, recommending phasing it out over a 10-year period. Although not an issue in Aston Cantlow, a problem with CRL is that it until 12 October 2013, it was “an overriding interest”, i.e. an interest to which a registered title is subject, even though it does not appear in the Land Register, which is binding both on the registered proprietor and on a person who acquires an interest in the property.
However, changes were made under the Land Registration Act 2002 and the Land Registration Rules 2003 whereby after midnight on 12 October 2013, unless a PCC has lodged a notice at the Land Registry protecting its right to claim for chancel repairs, the liability’s status as an overriding interest ceases. According to Land Registry estimates, 89 PCCs have lodged 601 applications to register CRL against registered land and 95 cautions against first registration of unregistered land.
– If there has been no change of ownership since 12 October, a PCC can still register a notice;
– It is possible that where property changes hands “without valuable consideration”, i.e. where no money or a nominal sum is handed over, such as under the terms of a Will, the land may still have a Chancel Repair Liability past the cut-off date of 13th October 2013.
Other Land Registry changes introduced by the Land Registration Act 2002 included the registration of: Lordships of the Manor; Manorial land; and Manorial rights. The latter includes rights relating to: hunting, shooting and fishing; mines or minerals; holding fairs and markets, as well as certain liabilities associated with the construction, maintenance and repair of dykes, ditches, canals and other works. As we noted in Media Muddle on Mineral Rights, the Church of England’s published a note about its Mineral Registration Programme explaining the reasons for its involvement in registering its existing interests, i.e.
“… to protect existing rights and interests made vulnerable by the change in the law. There are no particular plans to mine under any property. The focus is registration and protection”;
and to allay misconceptions within the media following concern regarding fracking, it modified its earlier note, adding the following Clarification on suggested links with hydraulic fracturing or ” fracking”
“It is factually incorrect to link the Mineral Registration Programme with fracking. The Church Commissioners are registering their mineral interests in line with the Land Registry requirements, as any responsible landowner is doing before the end of October deadline. This work started in 2004. This does not create any new interests or rights and is confined to properly registering what the Commissioners have in most cases owned for many years, and in some cases for centuries. There is absolutely no link with fracking.
We would make clear that this is just a registration and protection exercise to protect existing rights and interests made vulnerable by the change in the law. There are no particular plans to mine under any property. The focus is registration and protection”.
We also added a comment that “within the UK, the rights to certain minerals – oil, gas, coal, gold and silver – are owned by the State, not by individuals or organizations such as the Church”.
 On appeal from  EWCA Civ 713.
 Mark Hill notes subsequently that, though when proceedings were launched the quantum as claimed was in the order of £95,000, there was a separate hearing after the House of Lords had handed down their Opinions which came before Lewison J on 5 February 2007. Building costs had increased with the passage of time and the liability was assessed at £186,969.50 (ex VAT).
At L&RUK we do not give legal advice, or purport to do so. This post summarizes the issues relating to Chancel Repair Liability at the time of writing. For specific queries on the application of this and related legislation, professional advice should be sought.