THERE was nothing sinister or illegal about a parish's operating
a policy of not permitting the reservation of grave spaces in the
churchyard, the Diocesan Chancellor of Chester, Judge David Turner
QC, ruled when refusing a faculty to reserve a plot in the
churchyard of St Wilfrid's, Grappenhall, a Grade I listed church in
a conservation area.
John and Annette Boardman, a married couple aged 70 and 69
respectively, petitioned for a faculty to reserve a yet
unidentified plot for 30 years in the churchyard, so that, in due
course, their remains could be interred there in full burial.
The Rector, the Revd Jane Proudfoot, the churchwardens, and the
PCC did not consent to the faculty, because of the concern that it
might set a precedent that could tie up church ground. The PCC,
therefore, passed a resolution that included a policy of refusing
to permit the reservation of grave spaces.
Mr and Mrs Boardman had their "hearts set" on being buried in
the churchyard, and had viewed with increasing anxiety the rate at
which grave space was being used. They felt a real concern that
when their time came, the churchyard might be unable to accommodate
their remains. They were not on the electoral roll, nor actively
involved in church life as regular attenders, but they had strong
local ties. They had lived in the parish for their entire married
life (46 years), and regarded the church as "central to our village
and our lives". Their daughters and two grandchildren had been
baptised in the church; a daughter had married there; and Mrs
Boardman's father's remains were interred in the churchyard.
Views, including those of diocesan chancellors, have differed on
the desirability or appropriateness of reserving grave spaces.
Those in favour of allowing reservation point to the comfort it
gives to those seeking to make sensible provision for their death;
that it often facilitates a grave near to that of other family
members; and that it often reinforces a person's commitment to
church, community, or locality, and gives expression to legitimate
family feeling and a sense of history.
Those against reservation of plots point to the risk that it may
prevent others who die before those with reserved spaces from being
buried in the churchyard, and thus detract from the principle of
equality of the departed. It was also said that, when space
remained visible in the churchyard, the burials of those otherwise
entitled to be buried there, but who could not be because of the
reservation of space, could cause upset and misunderstanding.
The legal principles are clear. At common law, every
parishioner, and also everyone dying in the parish, whether or not
they are parishioners, have a right to burial in the parish
churchyard. By statute, all those whose names are on the electoral
roll of the parish have a similar right. The incumbent has a
common-law power only to prescribe in what position in the
churchyard the burial is to take place. Those common-law and
statutory rights become clear only when the person in question
The court has a discretion whether or not to allow a petition to
reserve a grave space. Generally, the court does grant a faculty
for the reservation of grave space, especially if the faculty is
sought by those with a right to burial in the churchyard.
The Chancellor said, however, that where pressure on space was
acute, the court was "unlikely to grant reservation so as to
prejudice future burials"; so that "individuals with a legal right
of burial must, generally, be interred in the order in which they
die until such time as the churchyard is full."
The PCC's adoption of a policy of non-reservation of grave
spaces was reasonable, he said, and there was "nothing sinister"
about it. He had "anxiously struggled" to discern any
"out-of-the-ordinary elements" in the petition which would enable
the court to override the views of the PCC, and those charged with
the churchyard's longer-term future, as well as the real risk of
injustice to other local people who might pre-decease the
He had been unable to find any such elements, and the Boardmans'
"need to know" where the earthly resting place for their remains
would be, however strongly felt, did not suffice. He could not
exercise his judicial discretion to prioritise their wish over what
the PCC had determined, and refused the faculty.