York Minster constables given police powers

York Minster Police to have same powers as regular police constables within the cathedral’s precinct

A Press Release from York Minister announced that for the first time in nearly 80 years, its Minster Police will soon hold the same powers as regular police constables within the cathedral’s precinct. Although the Minster Police is a private police force, its Cathedral Constables have recently undergone specialist training and will soon be attested giving them the power of arrest within the cathedral and its boundaries.

The new powers of the Minster Police were formally recognised on Tuesday 7 February in a memorandum of understanding signed by the Dean of York and Superintendent Adam Thompson on behalf of the Chapter of York and the Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police.

Background

York Minster is one of seven cathedrals in the world which maintain their own constabulary, the other six being: Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral; Canterbury Cathedral; Hereford Cathedral; Chester Cathedral; the Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano, (i.e. St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome); and Washington’s National Cathedral (USA). The Swiss Guard is a small force maintained by the Holy See, and is responsible for the safety of the Pope, including the security of the Apostolic Palace.

Although not as well-known as the Swiss Guard, the Minster Police have served York Minster for many hundreds of years. These and other cathedral constables were created under common law rather than statutory legislation. Between 1285 and 1839 York Minster had its own Liberty – the “Liberty of Saint Peter and Peter Prison” – which was the walled area which enclosed the Minster Close. Within the Liberty, the Dean and Chapter of York Minster held jurisdiction, and were able to appoint constables. These officers, similar to parish constables, maintained law and order. Over time, the Liberty, which covered an area equating to a third of the medieval City of York, had its own coroners, justices of the peace, bailiffs and a prison.

Cathedral constables and the law

Media reports indicate that when attested, the Cathedral Constables “will be given powers of arrest”. Within the broad scope of S2 Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 which is applicable to all cathedrals, churches, and places of worship in England and Ireland , section 3 already provides limited powers of arrest, viz.:

“Every such offender in the premises after the said misdemeanor so committed immediately and forthwith may be apprehended and taken by any constable or church warden of the parish or place where the said offence shall be committed, and taken before a magistrates’ court, to be dealt with according to law”.

[The absence of an “Oxford comma” after “constable” could be interpreted as including cathedral constables; generally, the use of these powers by churchwardens is strongly discouraged, despite the duty imposed by Canon E1 §4, requiring them to “maintain order and decency in the church and churchyard, especially during the time of divine service”.]

The Press Release quotes Mark Sutcliffe, Head of Security:

“We have worked closely alongside North Yorkshire Police for many years to keep the Minster and the people who visit it from around the world safe. The memorandum of understanding acts as a formal agreement between the cathedral and North Yorkshire Police around operational policing responsibilities within the Minster and its precinct and the new training and attestation ensures our Cathedral Constables have the professional skills and powers necessary to execute their duties.”

“The memorandum recognises that although security provision inside the Minster and its precinct remain the responsibility of Cathedral Constables, North Yorkshire Police will be responsible for investigating all crime. Any arrested people will be handed over to North Yorkshire Police for transport and processing and the force will be responsible for the submission of prosecution files.”

“The powers will formally come into effect when the eight Cathedral Constables and Head of Security are sworn in (attested) at a ceremony to be held at York Minster in the spring. “The Minster’s Cathedral Constables will join officers from Canterbury, Liverpool and Chester who are attested and hold the powers of constable in their respective cathedral and precincts”.

Comment

Minster Police History notes that in the past:

“The Liberty constable may well have also administered some of punishments handed out by the court. Officers certainly equipped themselves with an array of weapons, some possibly used to mete out summary justice. The Minster Police have in their possession a flail, said to have belonged to a Mr J Strutt, the Liberty Constable in 1713”.

However, today’s eight Minister Police “do not routinely carry handcuffs and truncheons, as incidents of public order are rare”. Their uniform is less flamboyant than that of the Swiss Guards, (the design of which is popularly attributed to Michelangelo), and is similar to their Home Office colleagues; they have all completed the Level 3 Certificate in Cathedral Constable Attestation, and are also trained in first aid.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "York Minster constables given police powers" in Law & Religion UK, 8 February 2017, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2017/02/08/york-minster-constables-given-police-powers/

8 thoughts on “York Minster constables given police powers

  1. Part of my former parish of St George-in-the-East fell within the Tower of London Liberties, with jurisdiction continuing until the mid-19th century. More detail on the first part of this page

  2. Thank you for this fascinating item on a little known segment of ecclesiastical law enforcement. How did this exclusive club of empowered Cathedrals come about? Do they not require such security in Rio de Janeiro or Cairo?

    • My guess (and it’s only a guess) is that the office of constable is a peculiarly Anglo-Norman-French concept, so they don’t have them outside a relatively few jurisdictions. The Swiss Guard is sui generis but I must confess I was surprised at the inclusion in the list of the National Cathedral in Washington DC.

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