THE Commissary Court of the diocese of Canterbury has granted a faculty for the installation of security CCTV in St Mary’s, Chartham, a Grade I listed church dating from the late 13th century, to enable the church to be opened to the public.
The installation must ensure, however, that any parts of the church set aside for private prayer are avoided by the scope of the lens, and that cameras be switched off during services.
The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 relates to certain types of CCTV camera usage, and, pursuant to that Act, the Secretary of State issued the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice. Although church bodies were not subject to the 2012 Act, the commissary court considered it “appropriate to follow the Government voluntarily and to encourage parishes to adopt the Code”.
The guiding principles set out in the Code included the statements that a surveillance-camera system must always be for a specified purpose in pursuit of a legitimate aim, and must take into account its effect on individuals and their privacy.
Translating those principles into the church context, the Commissary General, Morag Ellis QC, considered that, while, in principle, CCTV cameras could pursue the proportionate aims of deterring crime and desecration and increasing personal security, the siting and scope of camera equipment were particularly important. Areas set aside for private devotions seemed to fall within the especially sensitive category, where one would not expect to be filmed while praying.
Similarly, in any churches where sacramental confession or other ministries of individual pastoral support, such as healing, were practised, there should be no filming in the part or parts of the church set aside for such purposes.
There should be no need for cameras to be in use during any form of service, whether regular worship or occasional offices. With regard to the latter, funerals and baptisms, in particular, were examples of occasions on which people were likely to be very sensitive.
On the administrative side, it was obvious good sense that there should be identified persons responsible for the security of the equipment and the data collected, as well as available to deal with any complaints about the equipment. Moreover, there should be a discreet notice informing members of the public that CCTV cameras were in use in the church, for what purposes, and when they would and would not be in operation.
In the case of St Mary’s, the clearly articulated purpose behind the proposed installation was to enable the church to be opened to the public. Having the cameras was reasonably thought to reduce the risks of theft, vandalism, or desecration, and to enable evidence to be provided should such things occur.
Making the church available in that way was a worthy aim, the court said, both in terms of furthering its mission, by literally opening its doors, and in terms of making a nationally significant heritage building accessible to those who wished to enjoy its historic and aesthetic attributes. Clearly, it was important to protect the building as a spiritual resource, and as a designated heritage asset.
Therefore, the court ruled, the proposal at St Mary’s satisfied the proportionality principles that underpinned the faculty jurisdiction and the secular guidance.
The DAC had advised that, in its opinion, the installation would not be likely to affect the character of St Mary’s as a building of special architectural or historic interest.
The Commissary General said that she had carefully considered whether the overall character and function of the church as a place of prayer and worship would be adversely affected by the proposed installation, and had concluded that, subject to the conditions imposed, there should be no diminution of the church’s primary purpose.