Ecclesiastical court judgments – August (II)

Review of the ecclesiastical court judgments during August 2023 (II)

Fourteen consistory court judgments were circulated in August and the five featured in the first part of the round-up all relate to Reordering, extensions and other building works. This second part reviews the remaining judgments on Church Treasures/Sale of Paintings/Loans/MemorialsExhumation, and Churchyards and burials; also CDM Decisions and SafeguardingCFCE Determinations;  and Links to other posts relating to ecclesiastical law.

Church Treasures/Sale of Paintings/Loans/Memorials

Re St Mary and All Saints Willingham [2023] ECC Ely 4 “The church wished to sell a 16th century chalice and paten and a 17th century Paten, which had been valued at £18,500, £8,500 and £5,500 respectively. The reasons given for the proposed sale were that the items were not used for health and safety and security reasons, and the church could not afford to insure the items to their full value. They were currently stored at a bank changing £750 per year for storage. Although the usual presumption is against the sale of church treasures, except in exceptional circumstances, the petitioners claimed that there were exceptional circumstances – principally, inability to pay the parish share and the quinquennial report indicating that £80,000 needed to be spent on repairs. The Chancellor, however refused to grant a faculty, as he was not satisfied that the petitioners had explored all possible ways of resolving the church’s current financial position”. [Re St Mary and All Saints Willingham [2023] ECC Ely 4] [Post] [Top of section] [Top of post]


Errors in burial

Re Burnley Cemetery [2023] ECC Bla 4 The petitioners, who are in their mid-seventies, sought a faculty authorizing the exhumation of the human remains of their late son (and only child) from a grave in Burnley Cemetery and their re-interment in a reserved grave plot in unconsecrated ground at the burial ground of Haggate Baptist Church, some five miles distant. Their son had taken his own life at the age of 23 in 2007 and body laid to rest in a burial plot at Burnley Cemetery in which the remains of one of the petitioners own mother and father had been laid to rest in 2002 and 2005 respectively. The petitioners had wished at the time to have their son’s body buried in the churchyard of Haggart Baptist Church, where several relatives of the husband were buried. At the time they were advised that there was no family grave in which their son could be buried, so the petitioners’ arranged burial in Burnley Cemetery. As they got older, the petitioners purchased a new triple-depth plot at Haggart as a family grave and hoped that their son’s remains could be moved there and that they could be buried there with him in due time.

The Chancellor determined that there were sufficient exceptional circumstances to justify exhumation and reinterment. Amongst other reasons, there was a family grave which had been purchased at the Baptist church, and the petitioners had been unaware at the time of their son’s burial that he had been buried in a consecrated part of the cemetery and the implications of that. [Re Burnley Cemetery [2023] ECC Bla 4] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Re Hall Road Cemetery Rochford [2023] ECC Chd 1 The burial authority applied for a faculty for exhumation and reinterment. Owing to a mistake by the authority, some cremated remains had been interred in a plot reserved for someone else, rather than in the plot reserved for the deceased. The Chancellor granted a faculty, following the guidance in Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002] Fam 299 that, “Sometimes genuine mistakes do occur, for example, a burial may take place in the wrong burial plot in a cemetery or in a space reserved for someone else in a churchyard. In such cases it may be those responsible for the cemetery or churchyard who apply for a faculty to exhume the remains from the wrong burial plot or grave. Faculties can in these circumstances readily be granted …”[14]. [Re Hall Road Cemetery Rochford [2023] ECC Chd 1] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Re Allerton Cemetery [2023] ECC Liv 3 The petitioner sought a faculty to authorise the exhumation of his father’s cremated remains from the family plot of his mother’s family and to reinter the remains in a new plot in which the petitioner’s mother’s cremated remains could be interred in due course. The Petitioner’s mother had not realised at the time of her husband’s death that there was only one space left in her family’s plot. This had caused the petitioner’s mother a lot of distress since the interment, as she wished her remains in due course to be buried with her husband’s remains. The Deputy Chancellor determined that the circumstances of the present case were such as to warrant an exception to the general rule that human remains, once interred, should not be disturbed, and he accordingly granted a faculty. [Re Allerton Cemetery [2023] ECC Liv 3] [Top of section] [Top of post]


Re St. Barnabas Ranmore [2023] ECC Gui 6 The petitioner wished to exhume the cremated remains of her husband from the churchyard at Ranmore in Surrey and reinter them in the churchyard at Fulbourn in Cambridgeshire. The deceased’s remains had been interred in 2011, and in 2022 the petitioner had moved to live in Cambridgeshire. The petitioner was concerned that in years to come she might become physically unable to visit her husband’s grave in Surrey. The Deputy Chancellor refused to grant a faculty. Following the guidance in the Court of Arches decision in re Blagdon Cemetery [2002] 4 All ER 482, moving residence was not an exceptional reason to justify a departure from the normal rule that interment in consecrated ground should be regarded as permanent. [Re St. Barnabas Ranmore [2023] ECC Gui 6] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Re Hereford Cemetery [2023] ECC Her 1 The petitioner’s father had died in 1970 and his ashes had been interred in a casket in Hereford Cemetery. The petitioner’s mother had died in 2022 and her ashes had not yet been interred. The petitioner wished to have her father’s ashes exhumed so that her mother’s ashes could be mingled with her father’s ashes and the casket then reinterred, in order to fulfil  her mother’s wishes as expressed in a document dated 29 January 2017 [5]. These included: “the mixing of the ashes. The service was to have readings from ‘Science and Health’ as well as from the Bible, and hymns from the Christian Science Hymnal as well as hymns that would be well-known to members of the Church of England”. With regard to the officiant:

“In the unlikely event than an appropriate Christian Science Practitioner or Reader cannot be located Mrs Williams has said that a Minister of the Church of England can take the service and readings chosen by him/her together with the family members named above.”

The funeral service took place at the crematorium, in accordance with Mrs Williams’ wishes and was not conducted by a member of the clergy of the Church of England. However, Ockelton Ch. noted in passing:

“[6]. …in any event if Mrs Williams’ ashes are to be laid to rest in the consecrated part of Hereford Cemetery, that will need to be done in accordance with the teachings and doctrines of the Church of England and with a ceremony and intentions that do not contradict those teachings and doctrines in any respect.”

Noting that he had been unable to discover any relevant decided cases, he commented [emphasis added]:

“[7]. …That may be because it is obvious that the mingling of remains is not a good reason to allow an exception to the presumption set out aboveThere is nothing in Christian doctrine suggesting that any spiritual benefit could follow from such treatment of the remains of the dead; on the contrary, the principle of the permanence of the committal of remains to the earth, the requirement to treat such remains with dignity, and the near-universal Christian practice to maintain the separation and identification of remains where possible, all tend against allowing this Petition.

Dismissing the petition for exhumation, Ockelton Ch. determined that [emphasis added]:

“[8]. Mrs Williams’ ashes may be buried, with suitable ceremony, next to those of Mr Williams, without disturbing the latter and if that takes place a suitable inscription may be added to the present memorial. Under the earth there may be natural mingling of the ashes of husband and wife in the course of time. But whether or not that happens, their two souls are together in the hands of God.

[Re Hereford Cemetery [2023] ECC Her 1] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Churchyards and burials

Development of churchyard

Re Christ Church Swindon [2023] ECC Bri 2 Although done out of an excess of zeal rather than a contempt of the process of the court, “this petition demonstrates the pastoral damage and other fall out that can occur when petitioners fail to wait for the granting of a Faculty before proceeding with works petitioned for” [1].

The petitioners sought to complete the redevelopment and improvements to the remaining section of the remembrance garden, where ashes were interred and memorial plaques laid. The works would include laying a new path, which would necessitate moving a number of plaques [2]. This proposal was approved by the PCC in September 2020 and the petition was filed on 10 March 2023 [3]. It was suggested that the Faculty process should be put on hold to allow the objector and the petitioners to reach a compromise; however, before the proposals were placed before the Chancellor, and before the objector had a chance to discuss the matter with the PCC, the plaques were removed and the roses were uprooted and disposed of [5].

The objector had a meeting with the PCC and agreed to withdraw her objection, subject to a number of conditions she laid down [5]. Gau Ch. agreed to grant a faculty for the works subject to conditions which included that the plaques were to be reinstated in positions to be agreed with the objector. [Re Christ Church Swindon [2023] ECC Bri 2] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Churchyard Regulations

Re St. Mary Denver [2023] ECC Ely 3 The petitioners sought permission to erect a headstone in polished green granite with a sandblasted inscription in gold lettering, including an etching of a rose picked out in blue at the top [1,2]. The priest was aware of other headstones which also fall outside the Regulations which were introduced into the churchyard before he came to the Benefice and which he thought may have been within the Regulations at the time [3].

Leonard Ch. reviewed the Churchyard regulations in 2017 (and revised in 2018), and the relevant part that was in place before the 2017 Regulations and which were themselves amended in February 2004 by his predecessor [4,5]. He concluded that there had been no real change in the Regulations since 2003; he had no reason to believe, whether there were any formal Regulations before 2004, that the principles adhered to by his predecessors were in any material way different to those he produced in 2017 [6].

The Chancellor refused the application the grounds that the stone is not permitted under the Regulations and no good reason had been advanced for allowing an exception. In all other respects (and subject to whether the petitioner wants to re-word the inscription in the manner suggested or something similar to it), even if there are minor infringements of the Regulations, he would permit it. The petitioner is advised to choose a stone which falls within the Regulations [11]. As  Postscript, he commented:

“[15] I have advocated for many years (the last occasion being at the diocesan conference on churchyards held in 2022) that the PCC in parishes where there is a perceived need for there to be an area to allow for a less restricted approach to what is permitted within a churchyard could petition for a separate specified set of local Regulations to apply to a part of the churchyard.

This could apply in areas where the travelling community may want to instal memorials very different from those which would be permitted under the Regulations. If that can be achieved without affecting the setting of the church or of other memorials, perhaps by the use of hedging or some other barrier, then that could be permitted. It may be that this would apply to the particular part of the churchyard in which this petitioner wishes to erect a polished green granite headstone”.

 [Re St. Mary Denver [2023] ECC Ely 3] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Re St. Mary Reepham [2023] ECC Nor 2 The local branch of the Royal British legion wished to place a war memorial in the churchyard at its own expense. There were two objectors (neither of them a party opponent), one objecting to the proposed type of stone, and the other objecting to the proposed location of the memorial, the colour of it and the lettering. After indicating that he did not view the proposal with much enthusiasm [8(i) to 8(iii)] Etherington Ch. said [emphasis in original]:

“[9]. In the end, however, my function as a judge of the Consistory Court is not to impose my own personal views and tastes on a parish and if this is what the PCC wants then, unless its presence would deleteriously affect the significance of this Grade II* listed church in an impermissible way, I have no justification for refusing the petition. It will not have that effect”

“[10]. These [Churchyard Regulations] delegate to an incumbent my power to permit the introduction into her or his churchyard of memorials within the provisions set out and to do so without faculty permission…This proposed memorial is not a private memorial marking the burial of human remains but a monument to those who have given their lives in the service of the country. This does provide for greater possibilities of variation. In the case of private burial memorials, there is a need to have regard to some degree of uniformity and to avoid the dangers of creating bad precedents. A monument of this kind is very much a single memorial”.

The Chancellor granted a faculty. [Re St. Mary Reepham [2023] ECC Nor 2] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Reservation of grave space

Re St. Thomas Kilnhurst [2023] ECC She 1 The petitioner wished to reserve a grave space next to the grave of her son, who had died in an accident aged 28 in 2022, so that the remains of members of the family who could not be buried in her son’s grave could be buried in the grave next to his [1,2]. The PCC voted not to support the request by 12 votes to 2 abstentions; at the same meeting the PCC voted unanimously to accept the family’s request to install a bench close to the grave space with a memorial inscription for Bradley [6]. Whilst understanding the petitioner’s desire to reserve a grave next to her son’s, the Chancellor refused to grant a faculty for a number of reasons [8(a) to (e)], including that the petitioner’s son’s grave (which was triple-depth) had further capacity for burials and interments of ashes; other family members were buried in various parts of the churchyard and here was capacity for further interments in some of them); the churchyard had capacity for burials for many years to come; and the reservation would set a precedent which would hamper the fair management of the churchyard. [Re St. Thomas Kilnhurst [2023] ECC She 1] [Top of section] [Top of post]

CDM Decisions and Safeguarding

CDM Decisions

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. Determinations for the following meetings have now become available:

There were no meetings in April or August 2023; the next is scheduled for 7 September 2023.

Links to other posts

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

Reordering, extensions and other building works

Church Treasures/Sale of Paintings &c



Notes on the conventions used for the navigation between cases reviewed in this post are summarized here.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Ecclesiastical court judgments – August (II)" in Law & Religion UK, 1 September 2023,


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