Racial Justice First Report: consistory courts

On 28 June 2022, the Archbishops’ Commission for Racial Justice released the first of its biannual Racial Justice reports. This included “[f]urther reflections on monuments connected to slavery in churches and other church buildings in the light of recent cases” (pp 22-24); extracts from these pages are reproduced below.

Further reflections on monuments connected to slavery in churches and other church buildings in the light of recent cases

–  As a Commission our task is to seek to address the question raised by Archbishop Justin at Synod “Why is it so much agony to remove a memorial to slavery….?” The answer must surely lie in the Church of England’s processes and in the nature and operation of the Consistory Courts and in their approach and interpretation of the relevant law.

–  We are struck that a community that clearly find a monument an impediment to their worship life and their pastoral and missional work, which is the primary purpose of a church or chapel, is forced to retain such an object as a result of an intervention by parties opponent external to that immediate community.

–  A Bishop who felt obligated to appear in his own court had his own clear wishes overruled in a [judgment] that dismissed the College’s and his own objections to the monument on the basis that they arose from ‘a false narrative’.

– The Church of England should set an example by requiring those it instructs to take active steps to support and encourage greater ethnic diversity in their solicitors’ offices and barristers’ chambers and monitor progress in this regard.

– We would expect the Church of England to actively encourage qualified persons to apply to sit as judges i.e. as Chancellors and Deputy Chancellors in all its ecclesiastical courts and to ensure that all its judges receive diversity training at least equivalent to that now required as a matter of course in the civil and criminal courts in the secular system. This should include specific training on the theology of racial justice and the implications for ministry of monuments to slavery.

– The Rustat judgement involved findings of fact. We are of the view that confidence in such findings would be enhanced by Bishops, in making appointments to courts hearing such cases, being empowered to appoint suitably qualified Assessors to assist Chancellors and their Deputies where specialist knowledge, not least of the lived experience of diverse communities and of the history of those communities within these Islands and beyond, would be of assistance.

– We are aware of one other case involving a monument which has given cause for concern where [judgment] is still pending at the time of writing. We make no comment on that save to say that its outcome is unlikely, given the facts known to us, to change our view of what needs to be done as a matter of urgency in the aftermath of the Rustat case”.


Pages 22 to 24 of the Report focus on “[f]urther reflections on monuments connected to slavery in churches and other church buildings in the light of recent cases”, although only Re the Rustat Memorial, Jesus College, Cambridge, [2022] ECC Ely 2 is considered in any detail. The Report states [emphasis added]:

“The Church of England and its NCIs should as a matter of urgency consider all of the recommendations we have made as a result of our observation of this case and promulgate revised guidance and any legislation necessary to give them statutory effect at the earliest possible opportunity”.

The Terms of Reference for the ARJC form the Appendix to GS 2243 Paper for Racial Justice Debate, presented to General Synod in February 2022.


The Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure, GS 2272, which includes provisions on Ecclesiastical jurisdiction, – Judges: appointment and retirement (clause 7), Judges: training (clause 8), is due for First Consideration by General Synod in July 2022.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Racial Justice First Report: consistory courts" in Law & Religion UK, 29 June 2022, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2022/06/29/racial-justice-first-report-consistory-courts-i/


7 thoughts on “Racial Justice First Report: consistory courts

  1. How would these recommendations cure the fact that the Petitioners in the Rustat case misled their students?

    • The recommendations are heavily influenced by the Archbishop’s Synod comments on Rustat, which were dismissive of the “false narrative” of the findings of the court.

      Drawing general conclusions from a single finding, a ploy often used by pressure groups, is not a good practice, particularly when they are far reaching, and to be considered “as a matter of urgency”.

      With regard to the unnamed case which “confirms” the recommendations, the only reference I have come across relates to John Gordon’s plaque at St Peter’s Church, Dorchester.

  2. Whilst it was not a “contested heritage” case (in the sense meant here) I think the commission could usefully reflect on the St Giles Exhall case in their thinking on the ecclesiastical courts and access-to-justice issues.

    • Issues related to the consistory courts only occupied a few of pages of this 29-page report. It is therefore probable that the Exhall case will be outwith the Commission’s Term of Reference.

      • The Terms of Reference for the Archbishops’ Racial Justice Commission form the Appendix to GS 2243 Paper for Racial Justice Debate, presented to General Synod in February 2022.

      • Yes, I read the report and obviously yes, what is said about the consistory courts is a small element of the whole work of the commission.

        On the other hand, there seemed to me some useful connection between the Exhall case and the chair’s comments on pages 7 & 8 (expanded on at pages 23-24) on the consistory court process, costs and financial assistance (given that case’s reliance on funding sources from within the church, and pro bono work from legal teams, to enable the appeal to proceed); also the remarks on diversity training.

        The case is also noteworthy for the appeal judgement’s finding of direct discrimination on grounds of race. The response to the case in Ireland is also informed, in a way that may not always be immediately obvious to a modern-day English audience, by the experiences of past centuries. I found pages 25-27 of the report useful on this.

        Obviously those involved in the Exhall case are white, as I am myself – I pass as English right up to the point at which I open my mouth. Nothing in this is intended to minimise or distract from the much more damaging experiences of other ethnic groups.

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