MOVING the Legal Officers (Annual Fees) Order 2014,
Elizabeth Renshaw (Chester) said that the draft
Order prescribed the annual fees payable to each diocesan registrar
for the legal services specified in section two of the
Ecclesiastical Fees Measure 1986.
The Draft Order had been proposed by the newly reconstituted
Fees Advisory Commission, which had taken the opportunity to revise
the way fees had been calculated. "The current retainer system has
been in place for over 40 years. . . There has been longstanding
dissatisfaction over the method of calculating the level of the
Under the new approach, dioceses and registrars would be
"working together to achieve the best and most cost-effective
service" and, "for the first time, the retainer will take account
of the actual workloads." Dioceses and registrars would talk
through figures before sending them to the Commission.
The Commission's original proposals envisaged an uplift of 50
per cent, to be phased in over five years. After a consultation,
this had been revised to 30 per cent, still over five years.
The First Church Estates
Commissioner, Andreas Whittam Smith, explained that the
Church Commissioners funded 43 per cent of the cost of diocesan
retainers. "Expertise in ecclesiastical law is such a narrow
specialist area" that dioceses needed "support from the
Madelaine Goddard (Derby), a non-lawyer member
of the Fees Advisory Commission, said that in 2012 the retainer
paid to registrars covered only 57 per cent of the work undertaken.
The current situation "cannot be allowed to continue because,
unless our registrars receive a fair return, they and their legal
firms will be unable to carry on providing good legal advice".
Aiden Hargreaves-Smith (London) disclosed that
he was a registrar of two dioceses and a member of the executive
committee of the Ecclesiastical Law Society. He was extremely
unhappy that the proposals of the Fees Advisory Commission "fall a
long way short" of the recommendations made by an independent
In 2001, the total sum of retainers paid to registrars had
covered only 59 per cent of the actual value of the work carried
out. That had dropped, "year on year", to just 45 per cent in 2012.
"Registrars are being paid for less than half of the work they
Dr John Mason (Chester) said that, even though
he was not a great fan of lawyers in general, all advice he had
ever had on ecclesiastical law was excellent. "Registrars are
expected to provide unlimited advice on complex matters to almost
900 people in my diocese," he said. "The current trend of reducing
the amounts covered in the retainer will mean long-established
firms will no longer be represented."
(Archbishops' Council) said that these proposals were good for
three reasons: they ensured lawyers were given fair pay for the
work they did; they helped retain legal advice of quality; and they
pushed dioceses to begin having better local relationships with
their registrars. "The real-terms increase will be minimal."
Canon Joyce Jones
(Wakefield) said: "I need to be able to phone our registrar and
get the advice I need without worrying about how that will be paid
for." But this system was under threat if the retainer fees were
inadequate. "We need to pay them fairly, but we also need to ensure
we are getting value for money."
The Bishop of Dorchester
, the Rt Revd Colin Fletcher (Southern Suffragans), said that
fees for registrars were fundamentally a moral question. "One
registrar told me his retainer pays for the office and the office
staff, but he receives littleor nothing from that retainer. . .The
labourer is worthy of theirhire." The proposed fees still
represented a significant discount from the actual cost of
providing the legal services.
Canon David Felix
(Chester) said these proposals should be the beginning of a
change of culture. "I welcome the openness and accountability this
new order sets out. I also welcome the annual review." There were
still many clergy who were too critical of lawyers.
The Bishop of Peterborough,
the Rt Revd Donald Allister, wanted to pay tribute to the
40-year service of his diocesan registrar, who was soon to retire.
"It will be much easier to recruit a successor if there is a
reasonable level of fees, and this goes some way towards that."
The motion was carried.