Ecclesiastical court judgments – March

Review of the ecclesiastical court judgments during March 2024

The ten consistory court judgments were circulated in March included:

This review also reviews: CDM Decisions and SafeguardingReports from the Independent ReviewerPrivy Council BusinessOther legal issues; VisitationsCFCE Determinations; and Links to other posts relating to ecclesiastical law.

Reordering, extensions and other building works

Substantial reordering

Re St. Leonard Oakley [2024] ECC Win 1 The Petitioners sought a faculty to reorder the Grade II* listed church to create a sizeable extension and new entrance linked to the west door [1]. The proposals, or parts of them, attracted adverse comment from Historic England (“HE”), the Church Buildings Council (“CBC”), the Local Planning Authority (“LPA”), the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (“SPAB”). The Victorian Society (“VS”) alone has opted to become a party opponent [2].

More concerningly for the viability of the proposals as a whole, the LPA has previously assessed the harm to the listed building at the high end of less than substantial harm (together with finding harm to the conservation area). On that basis it concluded that planning permission would not be granted (24 March 2021). Whilst the design of the proposed extension has changed since then (in a way which, ironically, attracts criticism from other objectors), the LPA informs me that its “core concerns” remain such that the proposals are “unlikely to gain planning permission” (9 November 2023) [7].

Whilst the Petitioners were said to be “confident of a positive outcome” from the planning application, but Ormondroyd Ch. was not as confident [8]. The DAC recommends approval of the proposals, although this was subject to an extensive set of provisos [9].

Applying the Duffield questions and the judgment of Re St John the Baptist, Penshurst [2015] PTSR D40 (at 21 and 22) as set out the guidance of the Court of Arches, the Chancellor concluded:

“[24]. Taking the harm together, it is considerable – although (in the light of the survival of most of the physical features that currently contribute to significance, and in light of the various positive features of the scheme) not such as to reach the threshold of “serious” harm referred to in Penshurst (which corresponds with the concept of ‘substantial’ harm in the secular system).

However,  on the justification:

“[30]. This is not a church that is struggling or in need of drastic modification in order to fend off a threatened closure. Nor is it devoid of any flexible space or facilities; it has those in the nearby centre (albeit that that space is already in use to deliver public benefit and is not a direct equivalent for what is proposed here). It is thus a thriving church which is already generating very considerable public benefit from its activities in the church building and centre. I consider that it would continue to do so even without these proposals”.

The Chancellor refused to grant a faculty. Whilst he saw a clear justification for some parts of the proposals, he did not consider that, overall, the justification outweighed the potential harm to the Grade II* church. [Re St. Leonard Oakley [2024] ECC Win 1] [Top of section] [Top of post].

Re St. Nicholas East Dereham [2024] ECC Nor 3  Etherington Ch. prefaced his judgment with the following summary:

“This faculty application, which has undergone revision during its progress, concerns the first phase of reordering and renovation works in respect of this Grade I listed church. I have, after considering the evidence, conducting a view and taking into account the different submissions of the consultees, decided to grant it in the terms it has been requested. A late complication has arisen unfortunately concerning a Tudor painted roof/ceiling, which, although it will not affect the grant of the faculty may impact on the precise timing of the commencement of works which is dealt with in the Conditions”,

The petition sought permission: (i) to install lavatories in the north transept in an area near to the organ, (ii) to enclose the chapel space in the eastern bay of the north transept to create a sound-proof room which can be heated independently and install a small kitchen to serve this space, (iii) to remove the temporary kitchen at the eastern end of the south aisle and create a new reredos, (iv) to relocate an unused altar table (at present sitting on the grave of William Cowper) in front of the new reredos as a suitable focal point and (v) to create storage behind the reredos to keep the staging displaced by the proposed lavatories [2].

One matter of concern in this case was the proposal to level the floor of the Cowper Chapel in order to create an even floor for the proposed meeting room.

“[65]. The effect of levelling the floor is difficult to assess in terms of damage to the overall [architectural and historical significance] of the building as a whole because of the uncertainty of its cause and its past, but I would not assess it as greater than low to moderate at the highest. Given the use to which the space is going to be put and the way it will appear when the first phase of the project is complete, I do not see it as being out of step with the rest of the building.

[66]. I grant the faculty as prayed. I was given a copy of the conservation report at my viewing and read it in the days following. It is unfortunate that, whilst it does not suggest any alteration in the works proposed, it does raise urgent concern about the stability of the painted ceiling which will require a detailed condition survey which, the conservators advise should be before the works, the subject of this faculty, commence.”

[Re St. Nicholas East Dereham [2024] ECC Nor 3] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Re Holy Trinity Wordsley [2024] ECC Wor 1 The judgment commenced:

“[1] This judgment is unusual in that it follows a full, in person, consistory court hearing for an unopposed petition. I took the step of directing such a hearing due to the petition including applications for multiple confirmatory faculties due to the following unlawful actions taking place:

a. The destruction without a faculty of a wooden pulpit directed to be retained under a previous faculty;

b. The introduction into the church of a new moveable font, without a faculty;

c. The cutting down of a mature tree and replacing it with a stone or concrete plinth without either List B permission or a faculty; and

d. The moving outside of a Victorian font without a faculty, subsequently restored to its original location pursuant to a direction by the Archdeacon.

[2]. It was therefore necessary both to determine why such unlawful actions have taken place and to subject both the confirmatory and prospective faculties applied for to a higher than usual level of scrutiny.”

After explaining the rationale behind the proceedings, the scrutiny undertaken and the importance of the involvement of the amenity societies, Humphreys Ch. warned:

“[7]. In all cases then, the proper procedures should be followed, and petitioners can expect to face full consistory court hearings where unlawful behaviour is serious or persistent”.

The petitioners applied for, a confirmatory faculty in respect of works previously carried out without faculty including: destruction of the pulpit and reuse of the timber to make a new font, and cutting down a mature tree; also a faculty to authorise the construction of a prayer room, the re-siting of an 1831 font and the moving of an 1888 font to a baby memorial in the churchyard.

With regard to the retrospective faculties/illegal actions, Humphreys Ch. said:

[96]. … an explanation of the unlawful behaviour is rarely sufficient. A Chancellor usually also wants to know what steps will be taken to avoid further such illegality taking place in the future.

[97]. The fact of this hearing, and the costs of it, are likely to have been salutary in themselves. It is in the interests of all concerned to avoid the need for any future such hearing.

She was further reassured by the action that had been taken [98(a) to (e)] and trusted that the Acting Rector and Archdeacon would hold the petitioners to these commitments [98]. The Chancellor granted a faculty for all the items, except that the proposed relocation of the 1888 font to the baby memorial in the churchyard was adjourned generally. [Re Holy Trinity Wordsley [2024] ECC Wor 1] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Removal and replacement of pews

Re St. David Newbold-on-Stour [2024] ECC Cov 1 The petitioners wished to replace most of the wooden benches in the nave of the Grade II church with upholstered wooden chairs from a local Baptist church. The proposal was for the removal of the 14 long benches but with the retention of the four shorter benches. Some of the pews from the original interior of the Church from 1835 would also be retained [1]. The chairs were being gifted to the Parish by the local Baptist Church, which had secured funding for different chairs. The statement of need includes anecdotal information that the Minister of the Baptist congregation, “one of several people who have previously tripped over the legs on the current long benches owing to their awkward design”. Photographic evidence of the unsatisfactory leg design that causes the trip-hazard was seen by the Court [2].

No mention is made in the listing of the wooden benches, nor are they referred to in the Pevsner entry for the building. The benches apparently replaced box  pews when there was interior re-ordering, influenced by the Oxford Movement, in 1884 to 1886 [3].

The Victorian Society wrote to oppose the removal of the pews and proposed a compromise whereby some or all of the benches could be shortened in length. The objection was also made that the proposed chairs were of a heavy design, so suggested that lighter un-upholstered chairs – or even benches – would be better for a flexible use of the space within the church building [5].

The DAC disagreed with the Victorian Society’s reasons for objecting, and “unusually decided to put in writing objections to the points raised by the Victorian Society” [6]. Accordingly, a Notification of Advice from the Diocesan Advisory Committee was issued recommending the proposal; further, the Certificate was endorsed to state that the members of the DAC did not believe the work proposed is likely to affect the character of the church as a building of special architectural or historic interest [6].

Applying Re St. Alkmund, Duffield [2013] Fam 158, Samuel Ch. was not satisfied that the removal of the benches from the nave would result in causing harm to the significance of the church as a building of special architectural or historic interest. It was clear that the benches were not of great quality, although dating from the 1880s, and it was clear that their design presented a trip hazard that the Parish (and the members of the DAC) were keen to remove [10].

He was satisfied that all 14 benches the subject of this petition could be removed from the church: if at all possible the Church could raise some revenue by offering the benches for sale [11]. Additionally,

“The members of the Diocesan Advisory Committee rightly identified that the
introduction of upholstered wooden chairs does not meet the recommendation of the Church of England concerning the use of chairs in listed places of worship…It is important that if upholstered seating is to be provided that the upholstery does not detract from the architecture of the church – the fabric should not draw the eye of someone entering the church…I am prepared to authorise the use of upholstered wooden Chairs, as requested [12].

[Re St. David Newbold-on-Stour [2024] ECC Cov 1] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Net zero issues

Re St. Mary Stalbridge [2024] EC Sal 1 The Parochial Church Council (“PCC”) wished to replace the oil-fired boiler with a new oil-fired boiler. The Diocesan Advisory Committee considered that the PCC had not had “due regard” to net zero guidance, as required by the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2022. Before their petition had been considered by the court, the PCC arranged the installation of the replacement boiler. The PCC subsequently provided the Deputy Chancellor with information about alternative heating systems, which included a quotation for converting the oil-fired boiler to run on hydrotreated vegetable oil (“HVO”) at some stage in the future. The Deputy Chancellor, in view of the PCC’s declared aim to decarbonise its heating with the development of an eco-friendly heating system within the next 5 years, granted a faculty, subject to (a) the PCC undertaking accredited carbon offsetting, and (b) the faculty limiting the use of the oil-fired boiler until 2028, when any request for an extension would have to be supported by evidence as to whether there had been compliance with the offsetting condition and whether the boiler had by then been converted to HVO. [Re St. Mary Stalbridge [2024] EC Sal 1] [Post] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Re St. Mary the Virgin Stebbing [2024] ECC Chd 1 The earlier judgment Re St. Mary the Virgin Stebbing [2023] ECC Chd 2 sets out, inter alia, details of St. Mary’s and other thinking behind the re-ordering.\of the church. Subsequently, a number of small amendments to the scheme permitted and the 2023 Faculty has been authorized, although none of these amendments was material to the instant Petition [1]. The 2024 Petition forms part of the re-ordering scheme authorised by the 2023 Faculty, but relates, this time, to a single element: the installation of a buried LPG tank in the churchyard, with pipes leading to the church building. This is intended to power an LPG boiler, which will in turn power the new underfloor heating system which formed part of the works authorised by the 2023 Faculty [3].

The 2023 Judgment indicated that the church’s old oil-fired system had failed some time ago, and the infra-red heaters that had been installed pursuant to an interim Faculty had only ever been viewed as a temporary solution; underfloor heating was seen as the way forward (and authorised by the 2023 Faculty).

After reviewing the options suggested by heating consultants [7], the Petitioners sought permission for the installation of an LPG tank and associated equipment. This option was endorsed by the architect appointed for the reordering, and the intention is to conclude a contract with Calor for the supply of LPG for five years. Depending on how successful the system is found to be, the parish can either renew that contract, or not [9].

The original plan was for a tank that was only partially buried tank for which permission from the local planning has been authority  granted, subject to conditions. However, the proposals have been revised and a Faculty for a fully buried tank was sought [10,11]. On 21 December 2023, the local planning authority granted a variation of the planning permission to allow for a fully buried tank, s.t.c..

The Church Buildings Council, Historic Buildings and Places and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings have also been consulted. They have all indicated that they were content to defer to the advice of the DAC [14].  By a Notification of Advice issued on 28 November 2023, the DAC recommended the proposed works for approval by the Court subject to two conditions: Calor be required to remove all equipment from the site once the supply contract comes to an end, assuming that it is not renewed; they invited the parish to consider the reservations expressed by the DAC’s heating advisor in relation to a fully buried tank.

An objection was raised by an “interested person” for the purposes of rule 10 of the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2015 on three grounds: the installation of an LPG tank in the position proposed is too close to other buildings and would be unsafe; concern that the use of LPG to heat the church does not conform with the Church’s net zero guidance and the aim to be carbon-neutral by 2030; and the need to comply with the conditions imposed by the planning authority on the original scheme – in particular the need to have an archaeological monitoring programme [21].

The architect appointed for the re-ordering responded to these concerns, and explained [23]:

  • the cost of excavating the tank and associated landscaping compares favourably with the cost of alternative options (in particular any upgrading of the church’s electricity supply);
  • whilst the continued supply of bio-LPG cannot be guaranteed, given the targets which the LPG industry (in particular Liquid Gas UK) has set itself, there is a reasonable probability that supply can be maintained and that domestic supply will become available;
  • there is no reason to suppose that the siting of the tank is unsafe;
  • the choice of LPG, and in particular bio-LPG, will provide an immediate carbon reduction. If bio-LPG can be supplied, the carbon footprint will, according to the Chris Reading Associates paper, be less than that of electricity;
  • concerns about archaeology &c have been addressed.

Hopkins Ch. concluded:

[24]. St Mary’s new heating system has to be powered. I am satisfied that the Petitioners and the parish have given careful thought to the different options available to them. They have alighted on LPG, and in particular bio-LPG, as the best solution.

It is apparent from the material before me that they have considered with some care the Church of England’s guidance towards achieving net zero. Whilst their proposals do not achieve an immediate net zero position for the heating system, that is not realistically attainable: no system would do that. But LPG will have a lower carbon footprint than oil; and bio-LPG will have a lower footprint still. The nature of proposals is also such that if, in five years’ time, a “greener” alternative is available, the LPG tank can be removed.

[25]. So far as security of supply is concerned, I accept that a continued supply of bio-LPG cannot be guaranteed. But there is a reasonable prospect that it will – and security of supply is, alas, a potential issue in relation to many sources of fuel (not just bio-LPG). I consider it likely that increased demand is likely to result in increased supply. And if it does not, conventional LPG will be available – and any lack of bio-LPG will be a reason for reviewing matters in five years’ time. In view of the cost of alternatives (e.g. an air source heat pump), and even taking into account the cost of excavating and removing the tank after five years, if this proves necessary, I agree with Mr Garber and the Petitioners that concerns over security of supply are not a reason for refusing to authorise the works.


[29]. Having taken the various concerns into account, I am of the firm view that this is an innovative proposal for which a Faculty should be granted. The concerns that have been expressed can be met by the imposition of appropriate conditions.

The Chancellor was satisfied that the petitioners had considered with some care the Church of England’s guidance towards achieving net zero and she accordingly granted a faculty. [Re St. Mary the Virgin Stebbing [2024] ECC Chd 1] [Top of section] [Top of post]


Errors in burial

Re St. John Seaton Hirst [2024] ECC New 1 A funeral director applied a few days after an interment of ashes for a faculty to authorise their temporary exhumation, as he had overlooked the family’s request that a portion of the ashes should be withheld from interment in the churchyard, in order that they could be interred elsewhere. The Chancellor granted a faculty to allow the the removal of a portion of the ashes from the casket containing the ashes as the funeral director had acted promptly and his mistake was an exceptional reason to justify exhumation, in order that the wishes of the family could be carried out. [Re St. John Seaton Hirst [2024] ECC New 1] [Post] [Top of section] [Top of post]


Re An Application for Exhumation [2024] ECC Wor 2  A father (AB) and his son (CD) died suddenly together in an “accident” on 23 January 1977 [1]. Their bodies were cremated and the cremated remains were interred in a public cemetery. The original undertakers were instructed by Mr EF (father and grandfather respectively of AB and CD) and GH (brother-in-law and uncle respectively) [2]. The application for exhumation and re-interment is made by IJ, the widow of AB and mother of CD, with the support of her two daughters KL and MN. (who are also AB’s daughters and CD’ sisters) The other surviving family members including AB’s sister also support the application [3].

The plan is to remove the remains and re-inter them at a privately owned burial site; the petition is supported by OP of [Location] Council Bereavement Services, and the [Location] Council has indicated that it consents to the petition and will undertake the exhumation if permitted. The family will organise the re-interment with the support of the [local ordained minister [4, 5]. Humphreys Ch. considered the facts of the case [8 (a) to (f)] in relation to the leading case Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002] Fam 299. With regard to “family graves”, [9] to [17], she concluded that:

“[17]. On balance … where it is proposed to relocate remains to create a family grave that will ultimately bring together the remains of more family members than were together prior to the exhumation this can be permitted. This approach fits within the Blagdon Cemetery test as interpreted by my predecessors in the Diocese of Worcester and a faculty can be granted if, in my discretion, I consider there are strong enough reasons for it”.

In terms of the consideration of “medical conditions” she said:

“[20]. …the present case seems rather more than a change of mind or simply the lack of convenient visiting (although the latter is clearly referred to in the supporting material helpfully supplied by family members).

[21]. The sudden death of husband (father) and young son (brother) has…clearly had a devastating effect on this family, both emotionally and in terms of the mental health of family members, which continues to be very keenly felt [40-50] years on from the tragic events…

[23]. In my judgment the well evidenced and profound medical and pastoral needs of the petitioner and her daughters which require the exhumation and re-interment to take place, are sufficient to override the presumption of permanence in the circumstances of this sad case”.

The Chancellor granted a faculty, subject to a condition that the remains of the father and son, after such a long period, could be identified and fully removed. [Re An Application for Exhumation [2024] ECC Wor 2] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Churchyards and burials

Development of churchyard

Re Christ Church Spitalfields [2024] ECC Lon 2 The Rector and Parochial Church Council wished to enter into a management agreement with the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, under Section 6 of the Open Spaces Act 1906, in respect of certain parts of the closed churchyard of Christ Church Spitalfields, which adjoins Christ Church Primary School. This judgment resolved certain preliminary legal issues, including whether the court had the jurisdiction to decide and grant the petition sought by the Petitioners. (The Chancellor determined the petition in his subsequent judgment: [Re Christ Church Spitalfields [2024] ECC Lon 2] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Re Christ Church Spitalfields [2024] ECC Lon 3 The Rector and Parochial Church Council wished to enter into a management agreement with the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, under Section 6 of the Open Spaces Act 1906, in respect of certain parts of the closed churchyard of Christ Church Spitalfields, which adjoins Christ Church Primary School. The petitioners had amended the petition by omitting references to certain parts of the closed churchyard adjoining the school. The Chancellor granted a faculty to authorise the completion of a management agreement limited to the parts of the closed churchyard specified in the amended petition. [Re Christ Church Spitalfields [2024] ECC Lon 3] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Designation of closed churchyard

See Privy Council Business

Privy Council Business

13 March 2024

  • Burial Act 1853 (Notice): An Order giving notice of the discontinuance of burials in St Mary’s Churchyard, Swillington, Leeds, West Yorkshire, (35).

CDM Decisions and Safeguarding

CDM Decisions

Written determinations of disciplinary tribunals hearing complaints brought under the CDM, together with any decisions on penalty are published by the Church of England; included are judgments from the Arches Court of Canterbury and the Chancery Court of York where determinations have been appealed. The majority of complaints that are made under the CDM are resolved by the bishop, archbishop, or President of Tribunals, without having to convene a tribunal.

Penalties by consent

Diocese: Lichfield
Date imposed: 27th February 2024
Relevant CDM section: 8(1)(d)
Statutory Ground of Misconduct: Conduct unbecoming & inappropriate to the office & work of a clerk in Holy Orders
Penalty: Resignation from office & limited prohibition for 3 years (with effect from 27th February 2024).

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. These included the determinations for the 7 September 2023 meeting. Subsequent meeting have taken place on 26 October 2023, 14 December 2023 and 1 February 2024. The full programme for 2024 is here and the next meeting will be on Thursday 11 April 2024. The delay in publishing reports of these meetings is not unusual.

Links to other posts

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



Updated: 27 March 2024 at 16:27

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 – March" in Law & Religion UK, 28 March 2024,


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