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General Synod digest: church legal fees to rise

15 July 2022
Sam Atkins/Church Times

Two of the Synod’s legal officers

Two of the Synod’s legal officers

FEES for registrars will rise 14 per cent this year, in accordance with a previously agreed formula, after a debate in the General Synod on Saturday afternoon.

Introducing the debate on the Legal Officers (Annual Fees) Order 2022, the chair of the Fees Advisory Commission, the Archdeacon of Sunderland, the Ven. Robert Cooper (Durham), outlined the calculations and context behind the increase. Previously, a 30-per-cent charitable discount had been applied to the fees for registrars.

In 2019, the Synod agreed that this should be reduced to ten per cent over the course of several years, to ensure that ecclesiastical lawyers employed by the dioceses were properly renumerated for their work. Therefore, an increase of 14 per cent was required this year.

Several members who spoke in the debate were concerned about the financial burden that this would place on dioceses.

Robert Perry (Truro) said: “If we’re offering lawyers a fee increase of 14 per cent, and clergy a fee increase of much less than that, then something has gone badly wrong somewhere.”

Julie Dziegiel (Oxford) suggested that dioceses might be able to come to some form of compromise: after all, “the Church needs ecclesiastical lawyers, and ecclesiastical lawyers need the Church.”

The Dean of the Arches and Auditor, the Rt Worshipful Morag Ellis QC, said that the C of E needed the specialised skills and knowledge of such lawyers, and that it should “stick to its words” when it came to the agreed funding formula.

Carl Fender (Lincoln), on the Fees Advisory Commission, said that it was important to fund the work properly, owing to the “need to retain talent, and to continue to attract talent in the future”.

Nigel Bacon (Lincoln) agreed with paying a fair rate for the work, but was concerned about the size of the increase.

Canon Simon Talbott (Ely) suggested that the increase would amount to about £60,000 p.a. in the diocese of Ely — equivalent to the cost of maintaining an incumbent. Respect should be shown to the lawyers, he said, but also “for the work of our parishes”.

Responding, Mr Cooper questioned Canon Talbott’s calculations, and suggested that the increase was more likely to be around £7000. He explained that, unless the agreement made in 2019 was to be violated, it was a case of “pay now, or pay later”.

The motion was carried, and will now be laid before Parliament.

The Synod then debated the Judges, Legal Officers and Others (Fees) Order 2022, agreeing some increases in fees.

Archdeacon Cooper outlined the changes, which included an increase to some of the fees for presidents of tribunals for tasks that were deemed particularly complex and time consuming.

The Revd Neil Patterson (Hereford) asked rhetorically: “We need expert advice and support because our law is dense and complicated and ever expanding. . . Who makes it so, Synod?”

The motion was carried, and will now be laid before Parliament.

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