Ecclesiastical Solicitors & Ecclesiastical Law

Lupton Fawcett’s ecclesiastical law practice is the largest in the north of England. With over 25 years’ experience in this specialist and technical area of law, our Ecclesiastical Solicitors can advise on all issues and legal problems that face clergy, parishes and dioceses in the Church of England.

Partners Louise Connacher and Peter Foskett are recognised specialists in the field of ecclesiastical law, and Lupton Fawcett is pleased to be able to support their respective appointments in the Church of England.

Our partners have a renowned expertise and experience in church legal business covering issues such as land, burial grounds, church buildings, clergy housing, appointments, employment, church charities and ecclesiastical law is available to all denominations, especially the Church of England. For further information please click on the links to the left of this page or email:

At our York office:

Louise Connacher is the Registrar for the Diocese of York and Provincial Registrar for the Province of York and Legal Secretary to the Archbishop of York.  Peter Foskett is the Deputy Registrar of the Diocese of York.

At our Leeds office:

Peter Foskett is Registrar of the Diocese of Leeds.

Louise Connacher is the Registrar of the Diocese of Sodor and Man, Deputy Registrar in the Dioceses of Leeds and Blackburn

Our Ecclesiastical Law Department is supported by legal secretaries and clerks at our York and Leeds offices.

Together, Louise and Peter are available to provide in these three dioceses support and assistance to

  • 1299 churches
  • 710 clergy
  • 943 parishes
  • 9 archdeacons
  • 11 bishops

(The statistics are drawn from the Church of England Yearbook 2015)

Prominent areas in which we regularly advise and act/can help include:

  • appointment of clergy and employment staff
  • marriage law
  • church buildings and the faculty jurisdiction
  • burial law, memorials and exhumations
  • parish reorganisation
  • charities and trusts
  • church lands, glebe, church houses and church halls

Churches encounter legal question and challenges which involve secular as well as ecclesiastical law. Louise and Peter pair their expert advice with colleagues in other key areas of law – frequently employment, property, charity, company regulatory such as data protection, and commercial agreements.

The dispute resolution department at York has substantial experience in acting for parishes and clergy in litigation over church land and rights of way over land, employment and other disputes.

Bringing together legal experience and expertise from more than one area when necessary, means you can be assured you will receive a fully considered perspective to the issues faced.

Although the Ecclesiastical Department is much engaged on work for the three dioceses of which the Partners are diocesan registrars and bishop’s legal secretaries, we are available to advise clergy, parishes, boards and councils in other dioceses (as long as there is no conflict of interest).

We are also pleased to advise and assist clergy and administrators of Christian denominations other than the Church of England.

For further information please click on the links below:

General enquiries concerning the diocese

All general enquiries about the diocese, its churches and its clergy should be made to the office of the diocese concerned:

Diocese of York
The Diocesan Office
Diocesan House
Aviator Court
Clifton Moor
York
YO30 4WJ
www.dioceseofyork.org.uk

Diocese of Sodor and Man
The Bishop’s Office
Thie yn Aspick
4 The Falls
Douglas
The Isle of Man
LM4 4PZ
www.sodorandman.im


Diocese of Leeds

Bradford Office
Kadulgi House
Elmsley Street
Steeton
Keighley
BD20 6SE
Leeds Office           
St Mary’s Street
Leeds
LS9 7DP
 
Wakefield Office
Church House
1 South Parade
Wakefield
WF1 1LP
http://www.dioceseofleeds.org.uk/

Enquiries concerning the geographical boundaries of ecclesiastical parishes

To locate a church near you, visit the website www.acny.org.uk. Enter your postcode and then click the location of your house to see the basic details for the parish in which you reside and the neighbouring ones.

Cathedral and Minster enquiries

Enquiries concerning services, concerts, facilities, exhibitions at Cathedrals and Minsters should be made direct to the Cathedral or Minster concerned:

Bradford Cathedral
1 Stott Hill
Bradford
West Yorkshire
BD1 4EH
Ripon Cathedral                  
Liberty Court House
Minster Road
Ripon
HG4 1QS
Wakefield Cathedral
Cathedral Centre
8-10 Westmoreland Street
Wakefield
WF1 1FJ

 

St German’s Cathedral
Sodor and Man
Derby Road
Peel
The Isle of Man
IM5 1HH
York Minster
Chuch House
Ogleforth
York
YO1 7JN

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Lupton Fawcett are a leading personal and commercial law firm in Yorkshire with well-established offices of highly experienced solicitors in Leeds, Sheffield and York.

We have spent over one hundred years using our legal skills to help you through difficult, complicated or emotional times.  Within every area of law, we put your interests first.

We provide a personalised service, with sector specialists and extensive resources to ensure we are giving you the best solutions to your problems.

Lupton Fawcett have long been recognised for our expertise in Ecclesiastical Law.

Our Ecclesiastical Lawyers act regularly for clients across the United Kingdom including Bradford, Birmingham, Hull, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Nottingham.

We can support your needs wherever you live in England, Wales & Northern Ireland.

Call today or complete the enquiry form and we will get back in touch with you quickly.  We will always respond promptly, and we will be happy to help.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is a licence required for (a) the sale of alcohol in a church hall or (b) the provision of entertainment in a church hall?

The Licensing Act 2003 introduced an entirely new regime for liquor and public entertainment licensing. “Licensable activities” relevant to lettings and events in Churches and Church Halls are the sale of alcohol and the provision of “regulated entertainment”.

(a) If an event within a Church Hall includes the sale of alcohol, a Temporary Event Notice will be required or, if more than 12 such events will be held in any year, a Premises Licence will be required.

(b) If an event within a Church Hall includes entertainment that is not part of a religious meeting or service, a Temporary Event Notice will be required or, if more than 12 such events will be held in any year, a Premises Licence will be required.

Applications for Temporary Event Notices and Premises Licences are made to the local authority. Further advice is available from the liquor licensing section of the local authority.

Can clergy (a) serve as Justices of the Peace (b) be called for jury service or (c) serve as a Member of Parliament?

(a) There is no legal prohibition of a Church of England clerk in holy orders accepting an invitation to be a Justice of the Peace. There is, however, a potential difficulty should a clerk in holy orders serving as a JP have to deal with the situation where a member of their congregation appears before them. Consequently, although a clerk in holy orders may undertake this role, the possible ramifications of this should be carefully considered.

(b) The Criminal Justice Act 2003 removed clergy from the list of persons disqualified from serving as a member of a jury and accordingly clergy can now be called to serve as a member of a jury. Clergy jury service is on the same basis as any other person and hence clergy can only seek excusal or deferral if they have good reason, for example, where the demands placed upon their time by jury service would prevent the proper exercise of their pastoral duties.

(c) The House of Commons (Removal of Clergy Disqualification) Act 2001 removed any disqualification from membership of the House of Commons that arose previously by reason of a person having been ordained to the office of priest or deacon. (The House of Commons (Clergy Disqualification) Act 1801 had previously disqualified clergy from such membership). However, Lords Spiritual continue to be disqualified from such membership.

Can a co-opted member of the PCC vote?

A co-opted member of the PCC has the same voting rights as any other member.

Can a retired priest be on (a) the electoral roll and (b) PCC, and can he vote?

(a) Under the provisions of the Church Representation Rules, only lay persons are entitled to be entered onto the electoral roll. A priest ceases to be a lay person on being ordained into holy orders; a deacon, priest and bishop are clerks in holy orders. A clerk in holy orders is not eligible for entry on the electoral roll.

(b) A retired priest can be a co-opted member of the PCC. A co-opted member has the same voting rights as any other member.

What does ‘habitually attended public worship’ mean? Where a non-resident applies to go on the electoral roll by virtue of the fact that they have attended public worship for a period of six months?

Habitual attendance is not defined in the Church Representation Rules. Legal opinion says habitual means a regular pattern of attendance; and the commonly held view is that attendance once a month (and of course more frequently) fulfils the requirement. Attendance must be at public worship – but this is not restricted to Sunday services. Regular attendance at a mid-week service is perfectly acceptable, or a combination of both.

In a Parish where there will not be two churchwardens and no volunteer to stand as treasurer or secretary what provision is there to go outside the parish to draft in help that will be legally acceptable?

Where a person other than a member of the council is appointed to act as treasurer or secretary, that person may be paid such remuneration (if any) as the council deems appropriate provided that such person shall not be eligible to be a member of the council. See Appendix II of the Church Representation Rules, paragraph 1(d) and (e). Clergy in each parish is recommended to have a copy of these Rules.

By whom and when are churchwardens chosen?

Churchwardens of a parish are chosen annually not later than 30 April in each year, by election by a meeting of the parishioners. A meeting of the parishioners for this purpose is a joint meeting of:

(a) persons whose names are entered in the church electoral roll of the parish; and

(b) persons resident in the parish whose names are entered on a register of local government electors by reason of such residence.

The rules relating to churchwardens are in the Churchwardens Measure 2001 (they are also published at the end of the Church Representation Rules as Supplementary Material).

How many godparents or sponsors does a person to be baptised require?

The role of godparents is to speak on behalf of the infant being baptised during the baptism service itself and to support the parents in bringing the child up as a Christian within the family of the Church.

Godparents need be able to make the declarations and promises in the baptism service, which is why the Church of England requires all godparents to be baptised themselves and normally to be confirmed as well. It is not possible for a member of another faith to be a godparent.

Those who are baptised as infants normally have to have at least three godparents. At least two of them have to be of the same sex as the infant and one has to be of the opposite sex. If it proves impossible for there to be three godparents it is possible for a baptism to take place with onegodfather and one godmother. Parents can be godparents to their own children providing there is at least one other godparent as well.

Those who are older when they are baptised have sponsors rather than godparents. The role of the sponsor is not to speak for the person being baptised, but to formally present them for baptism and to help them in their growth as Christians after they have been baptised. There need to be at least two and preferably three sponsors and they are chosen by the candidates for baptism themselves. Like godparents they need to be baptised and normally also confirmed.

Further guidance on baptism can be found in Canons B21 – B25.

What is the minimum age of a witness at a wedding?

There is no minimum age of a witness at a wedding. However, although no minimum age is stipulated, it is imperative that the person chosen to fulfil the role of the witness is of sufficient maturity to fully appreciate and understand the nature of the ceremony of marriage.

If a person has a stroke and is left with severely impaired speech and they may not be able to make vows verbally, is it legally acceptable for them to signal their agreement by nodding at the appropriate moments?

Yes, it is sufficient for one of the persons who is to marry to sign their answers by a nod or shake of the head to indicate yes or no. Similarly, when one of the persons marrying does not speak English the important point is that the whole service must be in accordance with one of the authorised marriage services and the officiating cleric is obliged to endeavour to ensure that the persons to be married understands the service. During the marriage preparation the officiating cleric will generally need to spend more time introducing the service and paying particular attention to the essential parts which include the charge, promises and vows.

Where a marriage is to take place by special licence in a church which has no registers, where should the marriage be registered?

The books of the parish church (or the nearest parish church) are to be made available by prior arrangement with the minister of that church; but there is no obligation for the incumbent to make the books available when required and no obligation for the officiating minister to use those books. Any register books which can be obtained may be used.

Can banns of marriage be read at a Methodist service in church?

No, banns of marriage are required to be read at the principal Church of England service.

Is a Sunday wedding permitted?

There is no legal objection to marriage in church on Sunday between the usual hours of 8am to 6pm. The incumbent and the officiating priest must both consent, and it is appropriate for consent to be refused if holding a wedding on Sunday would interfere with the pattern of services arranged for the Sunday, or impose an unreasonable burden on the officiating priest in conducting Sunday services in other churches in the benefice.

Payments to Parochial Church Council (PCC) Members.

Why should I read this?

Specific legal rules apply to payments to PCC Members or persons connected to them for services or for employment.  If the rules are not followed then the PCC and each of its members risk breaching Ecclesiastical and Charity law and the recipient may need to return the payment in question to the PCC.  Please click here to read more.

Can a PCC charge extra fees for additional expenses for weddings and funerals?

The fees are fees prescribed by the Parochial Fees Order. These fees are made by General Synod and approved in Parliament. A PCC has never had a power to set “fees” of its own. All parishioners (irrespective of whether they attend the church or not) have certain common law rights ie a right to be married in the parish church and to be buried in the churchyard. It is not legally open to a PCC or an incumbent to require or impose an additional fee for occasional offices over and above those prescribed by the Order.

Sums payable to organist, choirs, bell ringers, flower arrangers, etc is different. If such sums are charged in respect of genuinely optional items which the parties to the marriage, or the parties to a funeral or burial, have specifically requested and agreed to pay for then there is nothing to prevent these additional charges being made.

What it is not open to an incumbent or a PCC to do is to purport to make charges over and above the statutory fee for items that are simply essential to the exercise of the common right in question. It would not therefore be lawful for a PCC to impose a charge, for example, for opening the church for a wedding or for “use” of the church building or in respect of wear and tear of its fabric. The Order does of course include a fee for the PCC.

The cost of heating and lighting a church for a wedding or funeral is not straight forward. In theory it might be possible for a wedding or funeral to take place without any heating or lighting of the church. It might therefore be arguable that heating and lighting a church is not essential and will be provided only if specifically requested by the parties who had agreed to cover the cost of such a provision. However clergy and PCC’s generally take the view that this is an unreasonable proposition to put to people having a wedding or funeral in church and is likely to cause more pastoral upset and damage than a marginal additional amount of income to the PCC.

Does our vicar have to robe during services?

The Canons of the Church of England been relaxed so that clergy are not required to robe in all circumstances. We have prepared a guidance note on this subject.

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