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Care of Churches receives final approval

24 February 2017

THE Draft Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction and Care of Churches Measure received final approval on Tuesday morning.

Introducing the debate, the Vicar-General of the Province of Canterbury, the Rt Worshipful Timothy Briden, who chairs the steering committee, said that the objectives of the Measure were to bring together all the existing law on a particular topic, reconcile inconsistencies, and eliminate obscure language. This Measure related to more than a dozen principal Acts and Measures.

One matter worth highlighting was that the General Synod had preferred to retain the Inspection of Churches Measure 1955 as it stood rather than enable schemes to be the subject of nationwide regulation. This choice was reflected in the Measure. Quinquennial-inspection schemes would continue to be the responsibility of diocesan synods. He encouraged them to refresh these schemes and remove present anomalies.

Clive Scowen (London) wanted to protest about process. Referring to the report of the Steering Committee as it pertained to amendments, he argued that drafting notes had not been made public and that “substantive changes” had been made, before this final-approval vote, which the Synod had had no opportunity to debate.

He also questioned the assertion that the Synod had decided against replacing the Inspection of Churches Measure, arguing that, instead, it had voted to adjourn the debate. He had expected that it would be brought back with a proper case made for it. He did not wish to approve the report, but had no problem with the substance of the Measure.

The Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, said that the Measure made no substantive changes to the Measures consolidated, but questioned whether these Measures were fit for their purpose.

He referred to the maintenance of the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved, and the fact that cases often went from here to the Commission of Review, which was made up of three members of the Supreme Court who were Anglicans and two members of the Lords Spiritual. Were there thee member of the Supreme Court who were Anglicans? He suggested it would be necessary to return to some of the consolidated Measures.

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent (Southern Suffragans), expressed sympathy for the Bishop of Chester’s point. There existed various bits of church law that, although they had been “lying dormant for a very long time”, the Synod had “declined to do anything about”. Should some of these things be addressed during the simplification process? “Let’s consolidate, but not stuff that is actually meaningless as church legislation these days.”

Chancellor Briden, responding to Mr Scowen, said that the material was made available online and that the substance of his concern went to the point that those involved in the carriage of the Measure were advised that the matters coming forward for amendment did not change the effect of the law in a substantive way. The Measure was not intended to pre-empt “in any way” the questions raised by the two Bishops, in relation to provisions in surviving legislation.

The Synod took note of the report and the Measure received final approval: Bishops 23 for; Clergy 86 for; and Laity 113 for, with one recorded abstention.

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