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Proposed shortcuts to the revision of ecclesiastical law; and whom it binds

04 September 2015


From Mr Adrian F. Sunman

Sir, — It is probably a truism that most people can, with reasonable safety, file their canons under “fiction” for most of the time without any great anxiety. The unique position and character of the Church of England, however, means that its canons (News, 28 August) are far more than the domestic “house rules” of an episcopally ordered faith community.

Although they may be obeyed as much in the breach as the observance, they are part of the law of the land, and are the practical outworking of statutory Measures.

Surely, since this is the case, it is all the more important that they are not repealed, amended, or augmented without the greatest care and scrutiny. The current processes for doing this may be slow, but at least they work and are reasonably democratic.

No doubt many of the Church of England’s laws are redundant, unenforceable, or simply no longer of any practical utility. But the way to get rid of them is surely through proper synodical and parliamentary process, not by creating shortcuts via the Archbishops’ Council.


1 Lunn Lane, South Collingham
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From the Revd George R. Bush

Sir, — It is arguably an established principle that the canons of the Church of England do not (indeed, cannot) bind the laity. Lord Hardwicke’s judgment in Middleton v. Crofts, 1736, settled a matter that began with nothing more than an unseemly wedding.

Readers with insomnia might consult my article in The Journal of Legal History (Volume 24, Issue 1, 2003) in which I rehearse the contemporary objections of Bishop Edmund Gibson (of London) to that judgment. I have some sympathy for Gibson’s rhetoric, rejection of which has given rise to the notion that clergy must live more closely by the tenets of the gospel than the laity.

Of course, there is no canon that may hinder a person converting a civil partnership into marriage (News, 14 August), but perhaps the Archbishop of York is relying on the duty of “canonical obedience”, which reliance may itself be a contribution to the present state of the law. But, equally, it may be that Hardwicke applies, and the frustration of the York Reader is worth further study.

But, then, perhaps a lay Reader is not a lay person: a point upon which I guess Her Majesty’s judges may be disinclined to comment.


Parish Office
St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside
London EC2V 6AU

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