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Re St Peter, Draycott

Court of Arches: Cameron, Dean; Gage and Bishop Chs, March 2009 Font – fixture or fitting – financial emergency – oral hearings – intervener status

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 August 2009

Ruth Arlow
Affiliation:
Barrister, Deputy Chancellor of the Dioceses of Chichester and Norwich
Will Adam
Affiliation:
Rector of Girton, Ely Diocesan Ecumenical Officer
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Abstract

Type
Case Notes
Copyright
Copyright © Ecclesiastical Law Society 2009

The Victorian Society appealed against the decision of the Bath and Wells Consistory Court granting a faculty permitting the respondents to sell the font from a Grade II listed church. The sale was to be to a public body or by public auction and permission was granted to apply the funds therefrom to defray maintenance costs in respect of the church. The font had been in the church since its consecration. It was large and ornate and had been designed by the celebrated Victorian architect William Burges. The petitioners had been offered a significant sum from a private collector who wished to purchase the font. The parish's quinquennial inspection had revealed significant works required to maintain the church. The petitioners wished to use the proceeds of sale of the font to defray these and other maintenance costs. The Church Buildings Council (CBC) was permitted to intervene for the purposes of the appeal under Rule 24 of the Faculty Jurisdiction (Appeals) Rules 1998 and CPR 52.12A, it not having been a party at first instance.

The court rejected the argument that the chancellor should have held an oral hearing in this case. All parties (including the Victorian Society) had consented to a determination on written representations – thus it could not amount to a legitimate ground of appeal. The court held that

the dictum of the Deputy Dean in St Gregory, Tredington [1972] Fam 236 that ‘faculties [for the disposal of items] should seldom if ever be granted without a hearing in open court’ no longer carries the weight which it did in the past.

but had been superceded by the written representations procedure under Rule 26 of the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2000.

The court rejected the CBC's submission that the sacramental nature of a font meant that it could never be sold or disposed of to another use. In the absence of any evidence of whether the font was fixed to the floor of the church other than by its own weight, the court endorsed the chancellor's decision to apply both the principles applicable to the disposal of chattels under St Gregory, Tredington and the Bishopsgate questions applicable to the alteration of listed churches. The court outlined and applied the Tredington principles and concluded that, although the parish had established that it faced ‘substantial expenditure’, the chancellor had been wrong to conclude that this amounted to a ‘financial emergency’ sufficient to show a ‘good and sufficient ground’ for the purposes of the Tredington principles. In reviewing the chancellor's application of the Bishopsgate questions, the court further held that the chancellor had been wrong to find that the parish had proven a ‘compelling financial reason amounting to a necessity’ for those purposes. The appeal was allowed, with the Victorian Society, as appellant, paying the court costs. [RA]