Ecclesiastical Court Judgments – December

Review of the ecclesiastical court judgments during December 2018 

December’s consistory court judgments have included judgments on reordering, churchyards and fonts. A summary of the reviews of ecclesiastical court judgments for 2018 will be posted shortly.

This summary also includes links to other posts relating to ecclesiastical law.



Reordering, extensions & other building works


Substantial reordering

Re St. Mary Handsworth [2018] ECC Bir 4 The proposals were for a major reordering of the Grade II* church, in order to promote community development and flexibility of worship [6 to 17].

Historic England did not object to the proposals [3] and the DAC recommended the Petition subject to the need for agreement to be reached on some of the details of the new work [5]. The Victorian Society was concerned about the replacement of all the nave pews with new moveable pews [5]; it had particular concerns regarding [18]:

  • the installation of glazed screens to the outer north aisle;
  • the proposed glazed screen to the tower arch;
  • removal of the nave and aisle pews; and
  • the introduction of the raised floor with underfloor heating;

The Chancellor considered the proposals in the light of Re: St Alkmund, Duffield [2013] Fam 158, [32] to [40]; he granted a faculty for all the items in the petition, apart from the total replacement of all the nave pews [39]. He was content (as was the Victorian Society) for replacement of pews at the front of the nave near the new proposed altar platform, but he invited the parish to consider whether some of the Victorian pews, particularly those with umbrella stands, could be retained towards the back of the nave, so that visitors to the church could be aware of what was in place before the re-ordering. [Re St. Mary Handsworth [2018] ECC Bir 4] [Back] [Top]

Re St. Michael Breaston [2018] ECC Der 4 A faculty was granted for substantial reordering of the Grade I listed church, including new heating; an audio-visual system; electrical works; replacement of pews with chairs; disposal of the pulpit; relocation of the choir stalls and organ; and works to the floor, [1 (i) to (vii)].  [Re St. Michael Breaston [2018] ECC Der 4] [Back] [Top]

Re The Holy Redeemer Lamorbey [2018] ECC Roc 1 There were extensive reordering proposals for the 1930s unlisted church at an estimated cost of nearly £1,000,000 (of which £775,000 was already available from the sale of some property): substantial reordering of the church, works to the church hall, which is a detached building, and other external works, involving the creation of an external play area, slight relocation of the war memorial, and widening of existing footpaths. The Twentieth Century Society raised no objections to the proposals. The Chancellor granted a faculty subject to a condition that no work should commence until the Parochial Church Council had raised at least £900,000. [Re The Holy Redeemer Lamorbey [2018] ECC Roc 1] [Back] [Top]

Other building works, including re-roofing

Re St. Michael & All Angels Maxstoke [2018] ECC Bir 3 The vicar and churchwardens sought a faculty for the reordering of the Grade II* church, of which the only contentious item was the removal of the Victorian font [1(a) to (i)];  the font had not been used for many years, a Georgian font being used for baptisms, owing to lack of sufficient space for families around the Victorian font. The space created by the removal of the font would be used as an area for children; the Victorian font would be placed either outside the church (an option not favoured by Historic England and the Victorian Society) or alternatively an offer could be accepted for it to be stored in Maxstoke Castle. HE and the VS did not become parties opponent [5-6].

The Chancellor commented: “only part of the proposals to which objections are raised relate to the position of the Victorian font, and the tiles that surround it. There does not seem to be any challenge to the Parish’s desire to utilise an appropriate space for children attending the services and for a votive stand” [8]. In the light of the findings and applying the relevant legal criteria [14], the Chancellor was satisfied that the Petition should succeed and that a Faculty should be granted subject to conditions regarding the Victorian font [15]. Evidence was to be obtained as to whether the placing of the font in the churchyard would result in severe damage due to weathering, in which case the Chancellor would direct that the font be stored in Maxstoke Castle. [Re St. Michael & All Angels Maxstoke [2018] ECC Bir 3] [Back] [Top]

Re St. Augustine Slade Green [2018] ECC Roc 2 The Vicar and Churchwardens sought a faculty for the removal and sale of the Vicar’s Stall; it had not been used since it was moved to its present position next to the north wall in 1991, following reconstruction work after a major fire. The Vicar’s Stall was not in its original position, and, according to the Statement of Needs:

“[8]. …  at present [it] occupies an area where young children are permitted to play. Perhaps not surprisingly it is in the way, and hampers the activities in that region of the church. It only provides a health hazard because inevitably young children try to climb up or over it. It is a large piece of furniture which cannot easily be moved…

“[10]. There was no liturgical reason for the Vicar’s Stall being repositioned as it was (and remains). Moreover, it has not been used since it was moved, if only because it is in an obviously inappropriate position for practical use. There is no other suitable place in the church building for it”.

The church is unlisted and there were no objections, but the Victorian Society wrote to say that they did not support the proposal. The Chancellor was satisfied that it was not practical to use the stall where it was, and there was no other appropriate place to put it. He therefore granted a faculty for its removal and disposal [13-15]. [Re St. Augustine Slade Green [2018] ECC Roc 2] [Back] [Top]

Removal and replacement of pews &c

Re All Saints Barrowby [2018] ECC Lin 3 The petitioners proposed reordering of the parish church including the removal of all the pews and their replacement with upholstered wooden chairs. Uncontroversial aspects of the petition included: cleaning of the Victorian tiles; creation of a dais at the east end in the nave; installing a new sound system; and undertaking out rewiring, relocating radiators and replacing where necessary. The Victorian Society opposed the removal of the pews and proposed a compromise whereby some were retained. Historic England (‘HE’) was not opposed to the removal of all the pews but objected to the use of fabric covered wooden chairs in replacement; if upholstered, a neutral colour should be chosen and not the then proposed red. The Chancellor was not satisfied that the removal of the benches from the nave would result in harm to the significance of the church as a building of special architectural or historic interest.

The PCC resolution “neatly summarises how the Victorian reordering will continue to be honoured and experienced in terms of the Chancel furnishings and the nave flooring tiles which will be cleaned and viewed more easily than now” [14]. The alternative scheme suggested by the Victorian Society (i.e. only removing the pews from the back of the church):

“[15]. will still mean that the church will have an inflexible space to use. It would be unrealistic to expect the pews to be moved and so the space opened up would be a limited area at the back. This would not be sufficient flexibility for worship or school services. Focussing the flexibility in a smaller space at the back separated from the east end of the church by the remaining pews would also truncate the worshipping focus towards the east end, which is the way the church was constructed to be used in worship”.

A faculty was granted for inter alia: the replacement of all the pews with upholstered chairs, provided that the fabric would be of a neutral colour. [Re All Saints Barrowby [2018] ECC Lin 3] [Back] [Top]

Re St. Mary Handsworth [2018] ECC Bir 4 See above.

Churchyards and burials

Development of churchyard

Re St. Mary Ashford [2018] ECC Can 3 As part of the Ashford Borough Council’s Snowdogs Art Trail, it was proposed to place the statute of a brightly painted dog in the churchyard between the north entrance gates and the church north door. The proposed statue, “infinity dog”, is named after one of Ashford’s leading sons – John Wallis a leading clergyman and mathematician whose father was Vicar of Ashford in 1602. The Church of England secondary school academy also bears his name.

The “Snowdog Festival” was scheduled to take place from 12 September of 18 November 2018; however, as the result of problems of their own making, petitioners were granted permission for the statue to be installed in the churchyard for only 10 days: no consultations had taken place with the Local Planning Authority or any other external bodies [3]; at the outset, no faculty was sought for its temporary installation [7]; the court was not initially informed of whether the churchyard was closed, and whether it was consecrated. Initially the Commissary General refused to grant an interim confirmatory faculty [9] and the statue was removed; subsequently, the formal petition was made.

Furthermore, ecclesiastical lawyers were deprived of the only interesting aspects of the case for:

“since [the Commissary General] declined to grant the confirmatory faculty sought, there [was] no need for [her] to express any view on the potentially difficult questions as to whether the installation (including a concrete plinth) is a ‘building’ for the purposes of s.3 Disused Burial Grounds Act 1884 and the extent of the Court’s powers under s.64 Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction and Care of Churches Measure 2018 (footnote 1)”.

Footnote 1 comments:

“The judgment of the Court of Arches in Christ Church Spitalfields is awaited, in which the confirmatory jurisdiction question will be considered”.

There was one objection on aesthetic grounds from a parishioner who is an immediate neighbour of the church, living in one of the historic cottages fronting the churchyard. However, as the proposed statue would be in the churchyard for only 10 days, the Commissary General considered that, in view of the community benefits of the project, the installation’s presence would be so transitory as to make the diminution of the Church’s setting insignificant. She therefore granted a faculty allowing the installation for this period. The Commissary General concluded with comments directed at the petitioners and the complainant:

“[16]. … I wish to make two further points. First, apparently no thought had been given to the secular planning position; since Ashford Borough Council is the Local Planning Authority and the period proposed is so short, I am assuming that there is no need for secular approval, though this is a point on which there should have been consultation and evidence.

Secondly, the partnership between this Church and the Local Authority is very important and I have given it weight in my overall judgment. The Church’s relationship with its neighbours is also important and should always be borne carefully in mind when consideration is being given to future civic collaborations. Whilst some neighbours might not always be in sympathy with all initiatives, neighbourly consideration and courtesy should always be shown and are always calculated to help, rather than hinder”.

[Re St. Mary Ashford [2018] ECC Can 3] [Back] [Top]

Churchyard Regulations

Re St. Vedast Tathwell [2018] ECC Lin 4 The executrix of a widow wished to carry out her wishes by erecting on her grave a memorial similar to that on the adjacent grave of the widow’s husband. The husband’s memorial stone was a polished dark grey granite stone with an asymmetrical pointed top, with a carving of a church window on it and with gold lettering. The Chancellor issued directions indicating the diocesan churchyards regulations did not permit a parish priest to allow a polished stone with gold lettering. However, the executrix of the late Mrs Burns contacted her MP to complain; the MP’s office was informed by the Diocesan registrar of the proper route for securing her requirements, i.e. a petition for a Faculty.

The Deputy Chancellor considered the facts of the case and determined that this is a suitable case, on its own unique and particular facts, for a diversion from the Churchyard Regulations. He commented:

[14]. In my Judgment, having seen the photographs of the graveyard, the material of the existing memorial is much more jarring than the lettering, and would fall comfortably within the description of the final sentence of [Diocesan]regulation 6 above. The Chancellor has permitted the erection of a further memorial which, whilst also breaching regulation 2 (i) above will, if I grant the Faculty as prayed, mirror almost identically the original headstone. The only difference, if I do not grant the Faculty as prayed, will be the colour of the lettering. This will create a curiously lop sided appearance to what is supposed to be a symmetrical memorial”.

However, he stressed that his decision “cannot be seen as setting any sort of precedent for any similar memorial to be introduced into this or any other churchyard in the Diocese”. [Re St. Vedast Tathwell [2018] ECC Lin 4] [Back] [Top]


See Re St. Michael & All Angels Maxstoke, above.

Re St. Paul Seaton [2018] ECC Car 1 The Vicar and Churchwardens sought to remove the existing damaged stone font from the front of the church and replace it with a new portable font incorporating the stainless steel bowl and cover from the old font. The rationale was to permit the placement of the (new) font in a better position for baptism services, with improved sight-lines; and the movement of the font out of the way when the space at the front of the church was required for large services, concerts and other events.

An earlier application had originally included the removal of the stone font from the front of the church and its replacement by a portable font retaining the existing stainless steel bowl and the wooden font cover; this part of the application was delayed because there were discussions with the DAC about the design of the replacement portable font [3]. Although appropriate notification was given, this nevertheless resulted in confusion in a number of the complainants although the Chancellor was satisfied that there was no real confusion [19-21].

A small number of parishioners objected to the proposals, but did not become parties opponent. The Chancellor granted a faculty for the replacement of the old font, on condition that the new font should stand in the same position as the old font, except when it needed to be moved for special services and events. [Re St. Paul Seaton [2018] ECC Car 1] [Back] [Top]

Links to other posts

Recent summaries of specific issues that have been considered in the consistory courts and elsewhere include:


  • Banns of marriage – their development and future, 8 December 2018. First published on 23 February 2017: reposted because the original file appears to have become corrupted. The original version has been taken down.
  • Religious content in civil wedding ceremonies, 12 December 2018. A guest post by Professor Rebecca Probert, of Exeter University, and Dr Stephanie Pywell, of the Open University, which summarises the findings of their recently-published research on what may and may not be included in a civil wedding ceremony – but sometimes is…
  • Seven Bishops and a PCC: St George’s, Headstone, 18 December 2018. a review of the Independent Reviewer’s report on St George’s, Headstone, London regarding episcopal oversight.


  • Clicking on “Top” will return the view to the groups in the main menu, above;
  • Clicking on “Back” will return the view to the sub-headings within each of these groups.
  • Clicking on the neutral citation in the title will link to the L&RUK summary of the case.
  • “Link to ELA judgment” provides a link to the relevant category of judgment on the website of the Ecclesiastical Law Association;
  • “Link to post” is used where there is a stand-alone post on the general issues raised in the judgment.

Citation of judgments

As from 1 January 2016, judgments in the ecclesiastical courts have been allocated a neutral citation number under the scheme described in Practice Note No 1 of 2015 and Practice Note No 1 of 2016. In addition, it was necessary to assign a neutral citation for the Diocese of Sodor and Man, here. The Diocese was deliberately excluded from the list of neutral citations in the earlier Practice Directions on citation because it is not part of England.


The photographs used in this post do not necessarily relate to the cases discussed.


Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Ecclesiastical Court Judgments – December" in Law & Religion UK, 30 December 2018,

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