Ecclesiastical court judgments – November

Review of the ecclesiastical court judgments during November 2019

This month’s consistory court judgments have included:

Also included below is a summary of the findings of a Clergy Disciplinary tribunal, a schedule agreed by the High Court in relation to collective worship at Burford Primary School, and recent CFCE determinations.

Reordering, extensions & other building works

Other building works, including re-roofing

Re St. Michael and All Angels Brimington [2019] ECC Der 5 The petitioners sought to introduce a new heating system, replacing the boiler, fan convector heaters and panel radiators with new items, together with underfloor heating in certain areas; also to remove the remaining pews and pew platforms from the nave and aisles, and introduce of chairs. They further wished to demolish a disused stone chimney stack associated with an old heating system that protrudes through the vestry roof, for which planning permission had been granted by the Chesterfield Borough on 12th November 2018 [1]. The project was cost at £110,000 Inc. VAT, to be funded from a substantial grant by the recycling company Viridor, and from the church’s available resources.

It was proposed that the heavier existing chairs would be brought to the front of the nave and any new stackable seating (the type proposed being the ‘Alpha’ chair) would be deployed behind.

The Chancellor noted [7]

“In summary, it appears to be a spacious building of good proportions, well-designed and proportioned. When listed in 1997 it was said to have retained a unity of design, and was a good example of the relatively plain architectural style popular before the ecclesiological revival of the mid-19th Century. The removal of some of the pews in the re-ordering of 2007, whatever the benefits of that, must have already altered that assessment to a degree”.

The Chancellor observed:

“]19]. I can well see that having members of the congregation gravitate to the more comfortable existing upholstered chairs behind the blocks of pews (in stereo-typical Anglican fashion) will not assist a sense of unity in the worshipping congregation. The pews are not of major historic significance, and are described as ‘very worn’ by Professor Spencer after her visit …

“[20]. I pay little attention to the mismatch between chairs as existing and the remaining pews. The earlier re-ordering was doubtless put forward for good reason by the church leadership 12 years ago, probably in an effort to provide more space after services for people to mix and have coffee, and so on. They cannot complain about one of the down-sides of that now.”

Assessing the proposals against the “Duffield Questions”, Re St. Alkmund, Duffield [2013] Fam 158, he determined that the pews were not of major historic significance and that the needs of the worshipping congregation would be better served by modern, flexible seating, that would also allow wider use of the building by other groups and organisations. Faculty granted. [Re St. Michael and All Angels Brimington [2019] ECC Der 5] [Back] [Top]

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Removal and replacement of pews &c

Re All Saints Mickleover [2019] ECC Der 6 The petitioners sought to re-order the interior of the 14th century, Grade II* church, including: replacing the pews with upholstered chairs; new floor coverings; a servery; and a disabled access toilet and baby-changing area [2]. The cost of the works was estimated at £125,000 of which £60,000 was available, leaving £65,000 to be raised.

Historic England did not favour the complete removal of the Victorian pews and had concerns about the choice of chair [4]; having reviewed the petition, the Chancellor considered that, in view of the fact that the choice of type of chairs was controversial, it would be inappropriate for him to delegate this question to the DAC. He was further concerned that the parish was not currently able to fund the proposed works; he also asked (i) why the parish wanted upholstered chairs, rather than wooden chairs, given the Church Buildings Council (“CBC”) guidance; (ii) why it was thought desirable to have two different types of chairs; and (iii) why I should not follow the CBC guidance, that is, not to allow upholstered chairs.[7].

The seating proposals were considered in detail [8] to [16], including the views of Dr Janet Spencer, the DAC Fabric Advisor, and a site visit. A revised proposal was submitted on 19th June 2019 [18]. The Deputy Chancellor granted a faculty for the items, providing that the stackable chairs to replace the pews in the north aisle should be Howe 40/4 un-upholstered chairs, and the two back nave pews should be put into storage. [Re All Saints Mickleover [2019] ECC Der 6] [Back] [Top]

Church Treasures/Sale of Paintings &c/Loans

Re All Saints Kirk Hallam [2019] ECC Der 7 Originally the churchyard surrounded the church building, but in more recent times, it has been necessary to acquire and add other areas of land to meet the need for burial space. In around 2006, while a grave was being dug in a newer area, a metal object was uncovered [2]. An unsigned report of the University College London Institute of Archaeology, dated 11 June 2010, describes the object as an ‘Anglo-Saxon sword/weaving-batten’, although Chancellor Bullimore  confined himself to ‘sword’, “which sounds much more romantic and interesting”;

“it is made of wrought iron, with no admixture (?) of gold or silver, which might have engaged the provisions of the Treasure Act 2006 and the Code of Practice 2nd edition revised published thereunder. In essence, it is not ‘treasure trove’” [3].

At UCL it was felt necessary that the sword, described in paragraphs [4] and [5], should be stabilised in order to prevent further corrosion, as it was “under threat of complete disintegration” [6]. Following the examination in 2010, it remained in the custody of UCL, and was only removed from there by the Collections Manager of Erewash Museum, who has placed it in their store room with its controlled environment, (with the consent of the parish priest), during October 2019 [7].

The petition states that the sword is of no commercial value, and the proposal is to transfer it free of charge on a permanent basis to Erewash Museum for public display as an item of local interest emanating from the pre-industrial period. This is an accredited museum and is willing to accession the sword, “which is museum-speak for indicating that it falls within their collection policy” [9].

Rather than taking the UCL view that as the sword was found in consecrated land, that, as a matter of law, it belonged to, or ownership vested in the parish priest, the Chancellor held that the item, once removed from the ground, became a ‘moveable’ of the church and, as such, legally vested in the churchwardens, Canon E1 (5). It was important therefore that the Churchwardens were agreeable to the disposal proposed in the petition, and the PCC agreed to the transfer [10]; both criteria were evident from the petition.

Rule 9.6(1) Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2015 requires that where proposals in a petition ‘involve (a) the…..disposal of an article of special historic, architectural, archaeological or artistic interest… (2) the chancellor must seek the advice of the Church Buildings Council on the proposals… ; the CBC indicated that since the proposals were in line with its guidance, it did does not wish to comment [13]. Furthermore, the Chancellor determined that the item was not a ‘church treasure’, as defined by the Court of Arches, and he was not therefore obliged to follow the advice of the appellate court to hold a hearing. (Re Shipton Bellinger [2016] Fam 193, para. 23) The Chancellor granted a faculty. [Re All Saints Kirk Hallam [2019]].


Re Hanson

On 18 October 2019, the Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal for the Diocese of Sheffield handed down its Decision and the Order and Findings in the case of the Revd Keith Hanson, whose conduct, as found and admitted, was considered to be:

unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders within s8(1)(d) of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 in that from about mid-September to mid-October 2017, he, a married man: (i) had an adulterous relationship with XY; and (ii) sent indecent and sexually explicit messages by electronic means to XY

Mr Hanson chose not to attend, stating that he was mentally unwell and asked that the matter be disposed of as soon as possible [2]. In the absence of any medical evidence of his unfitness or a request to adjourn the proceedings, the hearing was held in his absence, R v Jones (Anthony William) [2001] EWCA Crim 168, and Adeogba v General Medical Council [2016] EWCA Civ 162, [3].

The complainant has a history of mental illness and was accompanied at the hearing by her mental health nurse [5]. She began attending Thurcroft church in July 2017, and between mid-September to mid-October 2017 exchanged a large number of text, Facebook and WhatsApp messages with the respondent, which he said was “part of a sexual fantasy in order to placate the complainant”. On three occasions she alleged that she had “full sexual intercourse” at her home address [6]. However, the respondent maintained that he was incapable of intercourse on account of his medication [6].

The Tribunal considered the parties descriptions of the relationship, but “where there is a dispute between the evidence of the complainant and the respondent, the Tribunal has preferred the evidence of the complainant. It has been assisted by the content of the messages, which have been produced … The messaging on 10 October 2017 from the respondent is particularly explicit about their sexual intercourse” [9, 10].

Having carefully considered the totality of the evidence, the Tribunal concluded “the head of charge against the respondent has been proved in both respects. It is satisfied that the respondent committed adultery with the complainant … the messaging was wholly inappropriate between a parish priest and a parishioner, let alone one with a known history of mental illness” [13]. The Tribunal concluded that, in the public interest, there was only one proportionate sanction that could be imposed, prohibition for life [16].

Burford Primary School

The Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust (ODST) has settled a case about pupils withdrawn from compulsory school prayers. Lee and Lizanne Harris had brought an action against the Trust after learning that their children were being made to pray during assemblies at Burford Primary School, an academy with no religious character. Humanists UK’s version is here: Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust’s is here. The High Court’s Order of Settlement is time-limited and restricted to the Claimants’ children whilst they are still at the school; however, the areas covered are not limited to compulsory school prayers, and the Order is to be circulated to all the headteachers of other ODST schools. Humanists UK has published a guide for parents on requesting alternative to collective worship

CFCE Determinations

The dates of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England may be found by scrolling down to the bottom of the page Cathedrals Fabric Commission. This also includes the applications that the commission examined, most recently on 31 October 2019 when applications were approved, subject to conditions:

  • Canterbury Cathedral: Installation of a vertical platform lift within the Great Cloister;
  • Canterbury Cathedral: Loan of eight items by the British Museum for its upcoming exhibition, ‘Thomas Becket: Murder and Myth
  • Coventry Cathedral: A new single storey extension will be built at first floor level over the existing refectory, kitchen and Song School and incorporating the verger’s lodge, to contain a new passenger lift, new accessible w/c facilities, an education room / events space, a kitchenette and essential storage.
  • Lichfield Cathedral: Repair of Jane Short silver-gilt wafer box, part of the 1991 Lang Silver Commission. Inventory number 0148.
  • Lincoln Cathedral: To comply with the condition in the CFCE approval dated 15 September 2014 for the continuation of the loan of the Lincoln Cathedral 1215 exemplar of the (sic) Magna Carta to Lincolnshire County Council for exhibition at Lincoln Castle.
  • Peterborough Cathedral: Archaeological works relating to new gates in Prior’s Gateway.
  • Bradford Cathedral: To loan a Louise Pesel altar frontal to Two Temple Place, London for the duration of approximately three months for display as part of their ‘Hidden Fabric: Women, Textiles, Collectors’ exhibition.
  • Bradford Cathedral: To have the Charter of the Cathedral conserved and reglazed.

The next meeting of the CFCE is on 19 December 2019.

Notes on the conventions used for the navigation between cases reviewed in this post are summarized hereThe photographs used relate to the generic headlines and are not necessarily from the reported cases.  


2 thoughts on “Ecclesiastical court judgments – November

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