Legal & Canonical Status of Provincial Episcopal Visitors

Clarification from Independent Reviewer on status of PEVs

On Friday 1 April 2016, Sir Philip Mawer, the Independent Reviewer, published his first Annual Report to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York on the Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests (Resolution of Disputes Procedure) Regulations 2014. In response to a request for clarification on the legal and canonical status of the Provincial Episcopal Visitors (PEVs) – i.e. the holders of the sees of Beverley, Ebbsfleet and Richborough – the report includes as Appendix 3, a Note summarizing the relevant provisions”, and by extension, it describes the status of the Bishop of Maidstone, (who had not taken up office when the Note was first circulated on 25 August 2015). Its conclusions are reproduced below:


16) Drawing these provisions together, the following principles emerge as forming the basis of the legal and canonical status of the holders of these suffragan sees under the House of Bishops’ Declaration:

a) The legal mechanism by which the suffragan sees of Beverley, Ebbsfleet and Richborough were brought into being was under the Suffragan Bishops Act rather than by the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993. The sees continue in being in spite of the rescinding of the Act of Synod. Decisions about appointments to them and about the role description are for the relevant archbishop. The Dioceses Commission also has to be consulted before vacancies are filled, as with all suffragan sees

b) The occupants of the sees and the forthcoming occupant of the see of Maidstone are members of the College of Bishops of the Church of England.

c) As with any other bishop, the precise legal authority they have within any diocese is a consequence of the authority granted them by the relevant diocesan bishop.

d) Where a PCC passes (or is to be treated as having passed) a resolution under paragraph 20 of the House of Bishops’ Declaration, it is for the relevant diocesan bishop to decide, after consultation with the parish concerned, how episcopal ministry in accordance with the five guiding principles in the Declaration is to be provided to the parish and who is to provide it.

e) The Bishops of Beverley, Ebbsfleet and Richborough are a valued part of the range of provision available to a diocesan when considering how and by whom such ministry is to be provided. The Bishop of Maidstone will further increase the options available to diocesans.

17) It follows from this analysis that the question as to the precise scope of the legal authority enjoyed by the Bishops of Beverley, Ebbsfleet, Richborough or Maidstone or any other bishop who is exercising episcopal ministry in a particular diocese under the House of Bishops’ Declaration is a question properly addressed in the first instance to the diocesan bishop concerned.

25 August 2015″


Appendix 3 comprises the text of a note sent by Sir Philip to the Team Rector of North Cheltenham following the publication of his second report. Canon David Smith had written to Sir Philip expressing concern that there is no adequate publicized source of authority for the work of the Provincial Episcopal Visitors following the House of Bishops’ Declaration.

The letter was sent, after taking legal advice, and details Sir Philip’s understanding of the position but did not attempt to describe the nature of the ministry these bishops have in practice undertaken in any particular context, “that ministry has, of course, been undertaken by the bishops and their predecessors for over twenty years within the framework of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod and has varied from one context to another”. Copies of the letter were sent to the bishops concerned and to the Bishop of Gloucester.

Appendix 3 is useful in that it highlights the difference between the “black letter law” under which diocesan and other bishops are appointed and their associated vires, and the quasi-legislation related to their ministry, i.e. the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 and the House of Bishops Declaration, supra.

The conclusions to the Independent Reviewer’s Report are summarized here and our review of his guidance to licenced clergy is here.

[Links to CofE documents updated, 5 October 2018]

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Legal & Canonical Status of Provincial Episcopal Visitors" in Law & Religion UK, 1 April 2016,

4 thoughts on “Legal & Canonical Status of Provincial Episcopal Visitors

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  2. For info, the text of the original expression of concern to the Independent Reviewer is now also posted on the CofE website

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