THE consistory court of a diocese has no jurisdiction over the cathedral church of the diocese, the Diocesan Chancellor of York ruled when refusing a bell-ringer’s application for an injunction to stop the Dean and Chapter of York Minster from preventing the ringing of the bells for services. Moreover, even in relation to a parish church, the consistory court has no jurisdiction over the ringing or non-ringing of the bells.
The application was brought by Christopher Jack Cooper, a bell-ringer of 26 years’ standing, a server in the diocese of London, and a choir-member in several churches in the diocese of Canterbury.
He applied for an injunction in terms that the Dean and Chapter be “forbidden from frustrating the long-serving team of York Minster ringers in continuing their voluntary Godly duties of ringing York Minster’s bells for services according to Minster customs”. He said that it was “bad in law to prevent the ringing of the Minster bells for services”.
The Chancellor, the Rt Worshipful Peter Collier QC, who is also Vicar General of the Province, said that if this had been a matter to be decided on the merits of the dispute that had arisen at York Minster, whether of law or fact, he would have felt obliged to recuse himself from hearing the matter, because he was the chairman of the Cathedral Council.
It was, however, “immediately apparent” that the present application for an injunction was “fundamentally flawed”, the Chancellor said, because there was no jurisdiction in the Consistory Court to grant such an injunction.
There were two jurisdictional reasons why the court could not entertain this application and consider the merits of the complaint about the conduct of the Dean and Chapter in relation to the ringing of the York Minster bells. The first was that the Consistory Court had no jurisdiction over the cathedral church of the diocese whatsoever.
The second was that the power to grant injunctions, which was a power derived from the Care of Churches and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1991, dealt with proposals to carry out work to church buildings and churchyards. The power was given to chancellors with regard to unlawful activity in the church or the churchyard, but only such activity as would require a faculty to be obtained before it could be done lawfully.
The use or non-use of the church, the conduct of services in the church, and the ringing or non-ringing of bells would not fall within the jurisdiction of the consistory court in the case of a parish church.
The court of the Vicar General of the Province did have a similar jurisdiction in relation to cathedrals as did the consistory court in relation to parish churches. But that power was limited to an injunction being sought at the instigation of the bishop against a cathedral chapter that had not sought the necessary consents to carry out works that would affect certain heritage issues.
For all those reasons, Mr Cooper’s application for the injunction was dismissed.