York Minster Bells : “fundamentally flawed” application to consistory court

The statement relating to the axing of all 30 volunteer ringers at York Minster was issued on 17 October 2016. On 24 October 2016, HHJ Peter Collier QC, Chancellor of the Diocese of York and Vicar General of the Province of York, handed down his judgment in Re York Minster [2016] ECC Yor 3; he dismissed an application by a private individual for an injunction to stop the Dean & Chapter of York Minster preventing the ringing of the Minster bells.

To ecclesiastical lawyers, the inapplicability of a remedy relating to an English cathedral via the Church of England faculty jurisdiction is self-evident. However, in view of the general interest surrounding the York bellringers, the details of the judgment are described in some detail.

The application

Christopher Jack Cooper applied to the Consistory Court of the Diocese of York for an injunction against the Dean and Chapter of York Minster in order that they 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” [1.3-1.4]. The ground upon which he claims to be entitled to such an injunction are said to be “That it is bad in law to prevent the ringing of the Minster bells for services” [1.5].

The applicant’s interest is said to be that he is a “bellringer of 26 years standing, a server in the Diocese of London, and a choir member in several churches in the Diocese of Canterbury” [1.2].

The position of the Chancellor

The Chancellor stated [2.1]:

“If this was a matter that fell in any way to be decided on the merits of the dispute that has arisen at York Minster, whether of law or fact, then I would feel obliged to recuse myself on account of the fact that I am the Chair of the Cathedral Council. However, on this matter being referred to me it was immediately apparent that the application is fundamentally flawed because there is no jurisdiction in the Consistory Court to grant such an injunction.

In my judgement the test laid down in Locabail (UK) Ltd v Bayfield Properties Ltd [2002] QB 451 as to a perception of bias cannot conceivably arise when the sole issue is the jurisdiction of the court in such a plain case”.

The issue of jurisdiction

The application was launched in the Consistory Court of the diocese under the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules. However, there were two jurisdictional reasons why the court could not entertain the application and consider the merits of the applicant’s complaint about the conduct of the Dean and Chapter in relation to the ringing of the bells of York Minster [3.2].

  • the Consistory Court has no jurisdiction over the cathedral church of the diocese whatsoever [3.3]

The Chancellor stated that he was satisfied that the injunctive powers given to Chancellors were in relation to unlawful activity in relation to the church or the churchyard, but only such activity the nature of which would require a faculty to be granted for it to 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 a parish church.

He further noted that the Court of the Vicar General of the Province had a similar jurisdiction to issue injunctions in relation to cathedrals as does the Consistory Court in relation to parish churches. The Cathedrals Measure 2011 gives the Court a power to issue injunctions – but that was limited to an injunction being sought at the instigation of the bishop against a cathedral chapter where the chapter had not obtained the necessary consents to carry out works that would affect the heritage issues set out in section 2 of the Measure [3.5].

The very specific wording and limitations of that section confirmed the Chancellor in his view about the limits of the similar powers of the Consistory Court in relation to Parish Churches [3.6] .

Outcome

For all the reasons set out above the application was dismissed [4.1].

Footnote

It should be emphasised that a link, if any, between the applicant and the bellringers at York or their representative organizations is not indicated, nor is any such link implied in the judgment or in this post.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "York Minster Bells : “fundamentally flawed” application to consistory court" in Law & Religion UK, 13 January 2017, http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2017/01/13/york-minster-bells-fundamentally-flawed-application-to-consistory-court/

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