Ecclesiastical court judgments – March (I)

Review of the ecclesiastical court judgments during March 2020

Twelve consistory court judgments were circulated in March, and the seven featured in this first part of the round-up all relate to Reordering, extensions & other building works. The second part will review the remaining five judgments which concern Exhumation and Churchyards and burials; it will also include summaries of  Privy Council Business, and CFCE Determinations, as well as links to other posts relating to ecclesiastical law, which this month have been focussed on coronavirus COVID-19. Part II will include a separate section specific to the impact this has made on the faculty jurisdiction.

As from today, 1 April 2020, 20, The Faculty Jurisdiction (Amendment) Rules 2019 come into force; these make a number of important changes to the earlier Rules, including: the substitution of a new Part 4 dealing with consultation and advice; revision and expansion of Lists A and B; extension of the Archdeacon’s jurisdiction for temporary minor re-ordering; and various other amendments to improve the operation of the Rules. These changes are summarized in our post Faculty Jurisdiction – further amendments, April 2020, and the many changes to Lists A and B are helpfully identified the Explanatory Note to General Synod, GS 2137X which underlines all the additions and modifications.

In Re St. Mary the Virgin Redcliffe the legislation associated with different methods of addressing the nuisance caused by pigeons is discussed; this is a common problem and will be reviewed in greater detail in a subsequent post. In the view of the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus crisis, a separate post has reviewed the various aspects of the faculty jurisdiction and on-going work authorized by the courts, and provide links to relevant authorities which various aspects of the process. 

Reordering, extensions & other building works

Substantial reordering

Re The Ascension Blackheath [2020] ECC Swk 3 The petitioners sought to undertake extensive reordering works, the controversial part of which was the removal of the pews and the installation of the new timber floor [1], which the DAC thought inappropriate as it would “give the inside of the church something of the feeling of sports hall” [ref 1]. The final decision on the type of chair to be installed had not been made and “would appropriately be a matter to be addressed by a condition, if a faculty were issued”.

The Chancellor noted that the works to create the narthex had evidently been carefully designed to respect the existing building and had attracted no objections; the need to move the font arises from the creation of the narthex. However, it remains at the west end of the church, near the principal door of the church [2]. The principal reasons for the church’s designation at Grade II* are [6]:

It is of considerable interest as a remarkably elegant classical Anglican chapel of the 1830s and which probably incorporates part of the structure of its 18th-century predecessor at the E end. The church has an unusual history, dating back to the late C17. It has strong Group Value with its flanking houses“.

The London Borough Senior Conservation Officer considered that the proposals were well thought through, fully justified and would not harm the significance of the listed building [9]. However, Historic England was of the opinion that the pews and stone flooring did contribute to the overall character of the church, and “removing these features that likely date to the Victorian reordering would erode an important phase of the building’s evolution, severely altering the historic character of this interior, which would be harmful to the significance of the building” [11]. The Georgian Group “felt strongly that the surviving paving and slabs,between the pew platforms, should be retained in any proposed scheme” [13]. The Church Buildings Council was supportive of the proposals but queried whether it might be possible to preserve the flagstones forming the central aisle [14]; the Victorian Society did not wish to comment [15].

On the public benefit of the proposals, Chancellor Petchey noted that there are areas of great wealth within the parish and also areas of deprivation. No one social group predominates and the ages of members of the congregation range from infants to 90 year olds [17]; the substitution of chairs for pews would greatly facilitate access for those whose mobility is impaired…the narthex, the redecoration, the new heating, the new kitchen area and the new toilets, together with the provision of a new floor and chairs, will transform the church for the better [18].

The Chancellor considered each of the elements of the proposal [19 to 24]; in relation to the pulpit and lectern, he stated: “[a]ll I can do in the present case is to require the pulpit and lectern to be retained and encourage the Petitioners and PCC to look after them” [24]. Applying Re St. Alkmund, Duffield [2013] Fam 158, he considered that the loss of the pews would cause moderate harm. The replacement of the pews by chairs rather than benches will mean that the seating arrangements will not always (perhaps not usually) replicate the formal rows of chairs but it will always be possible for the chairs to be formally laid out in rows [28]. However, there was a clear and convincing justification for carrying out the proposals, and in this case the harm was not serious and the public benefit is considerable. It was appropriate that a faculty should issue [29, 30].

[Footnote 10 states “on the meaning of serious, see…In re St John’s Church, Waterloo, recently re-iterated in In re St Mary’s Church, Oxted [2020] ECC Swk 2.]

[Re St. Michael & All Angels Blackheath Park [2020] ECC Swk 1 (2)] [Back] [Top]

Re St. Dionysius Market Harborough [2020] ECC Lei 3 The faculty petition for this 14th Century grade I church proposed an extensive reordering which would provide: more space in the nave, aisles and chancel with moveable seating; a team administration office; an enclosed meeting space; a new kitchen, refreshment point and toilets; a welcoming entrance, and improved audio-visual systems, Wi-Fi, heating and lighting.

This is described as “a successful church”; in 2017 it was designated as one of the six “resourcing churches” in Leicester. As such it has additional resources to enable it to reach out to the town and its surrounding villages with a particular aim towards people who are not part of any Christian community [3]. 

[7]. At site visits in January 2012 and October 2014, the DAC gave encouragement for a fairly full refurbishment, and in May 2014 Ellis Scott of English Heritage (as it then was) also gave cautious encouragement.

[8]. After that time a vigorous but well-conducted discussion ensued in which the major conservation and national church bodies made useful suggestions which were adopted or sensibly considered by the team vicar…and the Re-ordering Project Committee of the PCC…”

Chancellor Blackett-Ord commented

“[9]. When I first began to study the papers which accompanied the Petition I was pessimistic. I thought that it would be almost impossible to devise a scheme which would, on the one hand, satisfy the considerable needs of the congregation and on the other hand preserve the very valuable historic and architectural characteristics of the church.

[10]. What I then found was a story of constructive criticism being sensibly considered and discussed with care, and a solution hammered out which is acceptable to all parties.


[12]. Perhaps none of these individuals [identified in para. 11] were totally satisfied with the result, but that is inevitable. What they achieved is a result which everyone could live with. There was only one small matter which caused me some concern, and which I will not mention, because it was explained and satisfied me almost as soon as I raised it.

All the consultees agreed a specification which all parties could live with. The Chancellor granted a faculty. [Re St. Dionysius Market Harborough [2020] ECC Lei 3] [Back] [Top]

Other building works, including re-roofing

Re All Saints Northallerton [2020] ECC Yor 1

The judgment considered two petitions concerning several issues: removal of the pulpit (to improve sight-lines to an altar under the tower, between the nave and the chancel); replacing the gas boiler; underfloor heating in the nave; and electric heating in the chancel [1]. The DAC Liturgical Adviser agreed that the pulpit was not used and was not in a good location; its position made the area very constricted. The inspecting architect confirmed that its stone base simply leant against the adjacent pillar so it could be removed without causing any damage. The floor underneath would be made good to match other areas of new stone paving to be laid elsewhere in the church [2].

There were two letters of objection to the removal of the pulpit, [4] to [8]. In their response, the petitioners reiterated that the primary reasons for removing the present pulpit were liturgical [8] which was set out in the Statement of Needs [12]. Applying Re St. Alkmund, Duffield [2013] Fam 158, the Chancellor was persuaded that the case set out by the petitioners in relation to their liturgical needs was well-founded [17] and was not persuaded that it would cause any such harm whatsoever. “In those circumstances the question of balancing that harm against the advantages simply does not arise” [18]. He saw nothing in the points raised in the letters of complaint, either individually or even when taken together, which amounted to reasons why this proposal should not be permitted to proceed. He therefore propose to allow the petition and grant a faculty [19,20]. [Re All Saints Northallerton [2020] ECC Yor 1] [Back] [Top]

Re St. Mary Oxted [2020] ECC Swk 2 The petitioners wished to install glass doors in a wooden frame to the outer archway of the porch of the Grade 1 listed church. It was “somewhat heavily restored in the nineteenth century..[t]he porch dates from the fifteenth century and is specifically identified in the listing: “Porch with hood moulding to arch and Cobham arms in spandrels” [2]. The Diocesan Advisory Committee supported the proposal and planning permission had been granted. Of the amenity societies notified of the proposal, only the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings objected.

The Chancellor commented:

“[10] It seems to me that, despite the suggestion that the porch might be only of moderate significance or perhaps somewhere on the spectrum between moderate and high significance, when it is viewed overall the material set out at paragraphs 8 and 9 above indicates that it is of high significance and I so conclude.”

The Petitioners submitted two alternative proposals, one using a metal frame, the other a hardwood one. Since the DAC did not recommend the metal frame option, the Chancellor only considered the latter [11].

Applying Re St. Alkmund, Duffield [2013] Fam 158, the Chancellor was satisfied that a convincing case had been made for the proposal and that public benefit would outweigh any harm. He therefore granted a faculty. [Re St. Mary Oxted [2020] ECC Swk 2] [Back] [Top]

Re St. Thomas of Canterbury Tangley [2020] ECC Win 3 The petitioners sought to undertake reordering works inside and outside the church, so that the church could be used for retreats and quiet days; they “aspire to make the best use of the ‘quiet and contemplative surroundings’ of the church by using it to run small retreats and quiet days” [2]. The proposed works included: the introduction of WC in shed structure in the churchyard; a wooden platform in the woodland area; and changes to the vestry and to the sound system [3].

The main item at issue was a proposed platform to be erected in a piece of woodland at the end of the churchyard – the woodland had formerly been glebe, but had been added to the churchyard some years previously. The petitioners proposed to use the platform as a base for a temporary structure, such as a tent or a gazebo, whilst conducting retreats.

At the directions hearing, the Chancellor pointed out to the vicar that he did not have any expert evidence from the Petitioners with which to gainsay the assertions of harm to the ecosystem of the woodland. The vicar confirmed that the Petitioners had not had any advice from an ecologist, and declined the opportunity to seek any such input, commenting that he was “90% sure a woodland specialist would say ‘don’t put anything in there at all’”.

The Chancellor commented “as things stand I consequently have to assess the petition on the basis that there will be some harm to the ecology of the woodland soils, and I weigh this in the balance against the proposals” [12]. Also weighing against the proposals were the concerns in terms of visual intrusion in the setting of the church (although not in the wider landscape, in which respect the Chancellor found the intrusion of the platform would be minimal) and practicality outlined by the Parties Opponent [13].

Whilst none of these points necessarily constitutes a major or insuperable objection to the proposals, and could be overcome if the justification were strong enough, the Chancellor judged that it was not [14]. He refused to allow the platform, but granted a faculty for all other items in the petition. [Re St. Thomas of Canterbury Tangley [2020] ECC Win 3] [Back] [Top]

Re St. Mary the Virgin Redcliffe [2020] ECC Bri 1 The Chancellor granted a faculty to authorise the installation of an electronic bird deterrent, in order to discourage pigeons from nesting in the north porch of the church and fouling the stonework. The deterrent consists of wires laid into a rubberised strip, which gives a mild electric shock to birds landing on it. The judgment contains a discussion of the relevant legislation relating to the protection of wildlife. [Re St. Mary the Virgin Redcliffe [2020] ECC Bri 1] [Post] [Back] [Top]

Removal and replacement of pews &c

Re St. Chad Pattingham [2020] ECC Lic 4 The petitioners sought to introduce a votive candle stand and to replace nine pews with a specific type of chair, the Alpha A1LSE chairs with upholstered seats and backs [2]. The Diocesan Advisory Committee (“DAC”) did not recommend the proposed chairs. Reservations were also expressed by Historic England, the Victorian Society, and the Ancient Monuments Society. The Chancellor’s view was that “the introduction of the proposed chairs would strike a discordant note by way of the presence of large and readily visible areas of coloured fabric.”

He directed that a faculty should issue for the votive stand, and that a faculty should also issue for the replacement of the pews with such chairs having upholstered seats but un-upholstered backs as would be deemed appropriate by the DAC.  [Re St. Chad Pattingham [2020] ECC Lic 4] [Back] [Top]

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Ecclesiastical court judgments – March (I)" in Law & Religion UK, 1 April 2020,

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