Faculty petitions under the coronavirus restrictions

This post summarizes the issues involved during the various stages of the faculty process, and provides links to relevant authorities with regard to the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus crisis,

PCC Meetings

An earlier post considered delaying the election of the PCC and churchwardens, and the Parish Resources page Coronavirus & Parish Meetings includes the following guidance on holding remote meetings:

PCCs – Guidance for holding remote meetings

The Charity Commission brought out guidance at the end of last week which provides that, even where there is no provision to enable them to do so in their governing documents, trustees should hold remote trustee meetings in the present situation and they should document their decision to do so to demonstrate good governance of their charity.

The Church Representation Rules do not make any provision for a PCC meeting to be held remotely. However, there is provision for business to be done by the PCC trustees by correspondence.

    • PCC meetings (trustee meetings not APCMs) can be held remotely during this period when face to face meetings are not permitted and PCCs should document the decision to do this, in line with the Charity Commission’s guidance.
    • Following a remote PCC trustee meeting, any business agreed or resolutions passed should be circulated to all PCC members under Rule M29 of the Church Representation Rules so that the business agreed remotely can be formally approved under the Church Representation Rules using the business by correspondence provision M29.”

This is further discussed by David Lamming in his L&RUK post ‘Virtual’ PCC meetings and other Coronavirus-related issues, and his Church Times article So, are PCCs allowed to meet without meeting? David quotes the advice of the from the Oxford diocesan secretary which “encourage[s] standing committees to meet, where possible, using remote meeting technology and digital collaboration tools to ensure governance continues (and/or to use rule M29 to conduct business by correspondence if needed”. Following a consideration of CRR rule M29, the use of the standing committee, and virtual’ PCC meetings, he concludes:

“PCCs should continue to meet, albeit remotely by Skype or Zoom or, where that is not possible, by a telephone conference call. Minutes can still be kept of such a “virtual meeting” and record as present all those members taking part. There may be some parishes where such use of technology is not possible, but, as [Peter] Collier says, “the essential issue for now is not to deal with cases that could not rely on this purposive interpretation, but to declare that it is valid for those who can.”

DAC consideration

The Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) is a critical point of contact in the development of a faculty petition, and the Oxford DAC has outlined the changes to its DAC’s working practices. It notes that in order to maintain an effective and efficient DAC service, the team is working remotely with direct-dial landline numbers being diverted to them. In particular:

  • All non-essential site visits are cancelled. Officers and committee members may choose to visit a site alone to inform a decision on a scheme.
  • Parishes are being encouraged to send the DAC team videos to explain the site or problem.
  • Delegation visits will not be able to go ahead, this may cause delays to some schemes.
  • Training day content for parishes and Quinquennial Inspectors will move online
  • The DAC team will organise telephone surgeries for parishes who need in-depth assistance

It is also in the process of preparing parishes for how to look after their building during this time of reduced occupancy, including remaining vigilant to lead theft. It seem likely that the DACs of other dioceses will follow a similar pattern.

Consistory courts

During the government restrictions imposed as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, the consistory courts are continuing to operate as normal. Cases involving hearings are very rare and are likely to be postponed during the outbreak. The vast majority of petitions are now dealt with on the online system, which facilitates remote working by Chancellors and others involved. Compliance with the Public Notices requirements during lockdown is a particular issue in relation to: display of public notices under rule 6.3 of the FJR 2015; and the display of petition and documents, rule 5.7, and the power to disapply under rule 5.7(3)). In the case of online petitions, the materials will be available for inspection online, see also new rule 5.7(2A).

Directions have been given by chancellors on a diocese-by-diocese basis, who have been urged to show particular tolerance to out-of-time objections; for faculties granted, there is also the residual power to set aside under rule 20.2 and 20.3, where this is the just course.

With thanks to the Rt Worshipful Charles George QC, Dean of Arches and Auditor, for clarifying the approach being taken by the consistory courts.

[Update: In Re St. Mary Andover [2020] ECC Win 4, Chancellor Ormondroyd reported: “[9]. A hearing was held using ‘Zoom’ videoconferencing technology on 16 April 2020, pursuant to the court’s power to “hold a hearing and receive evidence… by using any other method of direct oral communication” (Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2015, r18.1(2)(e)), and without objection… (4 May 2020)]

Building works

Our post Church building maintenance during lockdown reviewed the Advice issued by the Archbishops’ Council Cathedral and Church Buildings Division on 27 March Securing and caring for your church buildings during the Covid-19 pandemic: advice for incumbents, churchwardens and PCC membersIn addition to building maintenance and access to buildings, this addressed aspects of buildings works and the faculty jurisdiction. The Advice equates “building works” to construction projects; it does not indicate whether this is applicable to other works within a church that are authorized by faculty.

The Advice highlighted the importance of government guidance and that produced by the construction industry that all contractors should be aware of and follow. The Advice recommends not starting any works at present, unless they are to deal with immediate safety and security issues, but for on-going work it states “if any building work continues within the church, clergy should not enter it to say or to stream services, as surfaces can be contaminated and can remain so for at least 72 hours”.

Sources of information

This post not definitive guidance; its purpose is to assist PCCs in identifying the various sources of information relevant to progressing and implementing a faculty petition that are available at the time of writing (30 March 2020 at 16:45).

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Faculty petitions under the coronavirus restrictions" in Law & Religion UK, 30 March 2020, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2020/03/30/faculty-petitions-under-the-coronavirus-restrictions/

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