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Synod to simplify faculty jurisdiction

28 June 2013

CONSISTORY Court processes will be simplified if the General Synod approves new draft Faculty Jurisdiction Rules at its meeting next month.

If approved, the new legislation will replace the existing Faculty Jurisdiction Rules and two other Statutory Instruments dealing with the care of places of worship and injunctions and restoration orders.

Some of the rule changes have been recommended by the Archbishops' Council's "simplification group". In a report to the Synod, the General Secretary, William Fittall, said that a large number of responses to the group's consultation highlighted the faculty jurisdiction as being "ripe for streamlining. . . It was felt to be overly bureaucratic, resource intensive, and often unfathomable to those who had to apply for a faculty."

Faculty jurisdiction is the Church of England's system of planning control. Separate from local-authority planning departments, it covers all consecrated buildings and land, including all parish churches and churchyards, and some licensed chapels, as well as the ornaments and furnishings and objects in the buildings or on the land.

The new draft Faculty Jurisdiction Rules cover some of the changes being proposed. Others will be implemented by "a combination of administrative action and good practice". Additional changes will require new legislation, which will be brought to the Synod in November.

In the new Rules, an ecclesiastical court will be able to accept a statutory undertaking from a person rather than have to issue an injunction or restoration order. Failure to comply would be treated as a contempt of court.

The Rules also include, for the first time, provisions for the issue of interim faculties to cover emergency situations. The old Rules acknowledged that interim faculties existed, but left their operation entirely to common law.

Other changes include the ability to complete and submit petitions online, where the Registry is equipped for this; and a requirement that a public notice should be published on the diocesan website, giving details of applications for certain changes to listed buildings, or applications involving demolition in a conservation area.

The petition form is shorter under the new Rules, and will be accom- panied by a standard information form that can be usead for any subsequent applications for the same church.

People opposing petitions will not be "unnecessarily discouraged" from becoming a party to the proceedings. At present, people are warned that becoming a "party opponent" could result in costs being awarded against them if the petition is granted; but the new Rules seek "to avoid making objectors unduly concerned about the (low) risk of adverse costs orders being made against them", the briefing note states.

Objectors will also be told that they can take part in proceedings only if they are a party to the case.

The overriding objective of the new rules is to deal with cases "justly and expeditiously"; and courts will be required to actively manage cases in a way that "expedites the resolution of disputes and avoids unnecessary delay".

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