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Faculty jurisdiction

12 July 2013

Faculty jurisdiction

Dean of the Arches: the Rt Wor­ship­ful Charles George

Dean of the Arches: the Rt Wor­ship­ful Charles George

THE Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2013 were considered on Sunday afternoon.

Introducing the debate, the Dean of the Arches and Auditor, the Rt Worshipful Charles George QC, who chairs the Rule Committee, provided a "birds-eye gallop over a complex set of rules", an overview of the attempt to simplify the faculty system, in line with the recommendations of the working group on the simplification of faculty jurisdiction. This new set of rules had been endorsed by the Archbishops' Council last December. He paid tribute to the work of Anne Sloman, who chairs the Church Buildings Council.

He emphasised that today was not the occasion for a discussion of the principles of faculty jurisdiction, but about whether the draft rules were fit for purpose. For those applying for faculties, and those approving them, the provision of rules was "critical". There was a need to revise the old rules (2000), which had a "dated look" and did not "prioritise active case-management". The rules had been "completely rewritten in what we believe is a considerably more readable way". He paid tribute to the work of the Synod's Deputy Legal Adviser, the Revd Alexander McGregor.

Among the recommendations made by the working group was a recommendation that the list of minor works not requiring a faculty be standardised. This would require primary legislation, which was "already in hand". This was also the case for the recommendation that "fairly routine works" be undertaken without the need for a faculty if approved by an archdeacon. The forthcoming Measure was also likely to empower the Appeal Court to intervene in cases where "there appeared to be inordinate delay in dealing with petitions."

The priority for the changes was "to simplify the forms associated with faculty jurisdiction to make them easier to complete", and "numerous changes" had been incorporated. This included a rule requiring the "effective use of technology". The aim was that a petition form could be downloaded, completed online, submitted, and then saved. Other changes had been made to "reflect modern civil procedure" - for example, a new power for the court to limit cross-examination.

The Dean of Portsmouth, the Very Revd David Brindley, who chairs the Portsmouth diocesan advisory committee, said that the work of DACs was "not negative", but "connects positively" to the mission of the Church. "Our buildings are a mission resource." DACs would welcome the simplified rules, he said, although there was still further work to be done.

Tim Allen (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) said that it was increasingly difficult to persuade members of congregations to become churchwardens, because they were deterred by the bureauocracy involved - not least by the complex bureaucratic burden of the faculty system. It was very good news that the faculty system would be simplified, he said. "It will reduce the burden on churchwardens and others with responsibility for church buildings."

The motion to consider the Rules was carried.

Adrian Vincent (Guildford) moved an amendment to the proposed new Petition for Faculty form 3A, to clarify what was meant by the words "privately or by way of gifts". A scheme funded privately was a gift; but the rules defined gifts as a scheme funded through the DAC.

The Dean of the Arches resisted the amendment, saying that the wording was "perfectly plain". Gavin Oldham (Oxford) suggested that clarity could be achieved simply by adding a footnote explaining what was meant.

Canon Jonathan Alderton-Ford (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) supported the amendment. "Many people filling in the forms are without any technical experience."

The amendment was carried.

Dr Christopher Angus (Carlisle), one of the House of Laity representatives on the Rule Committee, said that the rules aimed to tackle five themes that had emerged during a consultation including the amount of bureaucracy, the process taking too long, the provision of information, the need for simpler petition forms, and a move to online working.

He said that the new rules were "extremely well organised, approachable, readable, and extremely clear".

Paul Hancock (Liverpool) asked whether PCCs would be limited in the number of online signatories they were allowed. In his parish, they appointed three people to deal with three separate faculties rather than one person to deal with all three. He wanted to know whether they would need to revert to just one person dealing with the faculties if they could only use one online signature.

Canon David Felix (Chester), as "a consumer of its services", spoke to the part played by the DAC. It was "still not customer-focused". He gave the examples of being denied the name of the DAC's clock adviser, and of seeing an application knocked back by the DAC without having the opportunity to appear before it. "The draft rules are a welcome change in process, but I suggest they are not far enough."

The Revd Mark Steadman (Southwark) said that the revised rules were "timely and welcome": "We have much to be grateful for in the work of registrars and chancellors throughout the Church." He was grateful for the introduction of the objective that "mirrors that to be found in civil procedure", that was, "to ensure that cases are dealt with swiftly and justly". But it was less clear how that duty of the court would be monitored and upheld. A common concern was the amount of time that "seemingly simple and straightforward matters" could take.

The motion to approve the Rules, as amended, was carried overwhelmingly.

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