Judgments - Parochial Church Council of the Parish of Aston Cantlow and Wilmcote with Billesley, Warwickshire (Appellants) v Wallbank and another (Respondents)

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    112. It is unclear from the extract of the Award contained in the papers before your Lordships on account of what rectorial rights Clanacre was allotted. It may have been allotted on account of Lord Brooke's tithes or it may have been allotted on account of glebe comprised in the common lands that were being enclosed. But it is not in dispute that one way or another Clanacre became, by substitution, rectorial property. Certainly all Lord Brooke's tithes over the common lands were extinguished by the Act and the Award.

    113. At some time between 1743 and 1875 Lord Brooke, or his successors, sold Clanacre together with the rest of what later became Glebe Farm. Whether the sale was of all Lord Brooke's impropriated property or of only part of it is not apparent from the papers in evidence in the case.

    114. The first readable conveyance dealing with Clanacre is a conveyance of 21 October 1918 under which the vendor, Thomas Wood, conveyed to two purchasers, both with the surname Terry, Glebe Farm and its 179 odd acres including the 52 odd Clanacre acres. The habendum to the Conveyance says that the purchasers were to hold the land

    "in fee simple in equal shares as tenants in common subject primarily and in priority to the other hereditaments charged therewith to the repairs of the Chancel of Aston Church."

The "subject to" provision indicates the strong likelihood that the vendor, Thomas Wood, who must have been a lay impropriator, was selling part of the rectorial property but retaining other parts. It seems to me unlikely, given the content of this provision, that Mr and Mrs Wallbank could succeed in claiming from Thomas Wood or his successors a contribution towards any chancel repairing liability that rests on them by virtue of their ownership of Clanacre.

    115. In 1970 Mr and Mrs Coulton, Mrs Wallbank's parents, purchased Glebe Farm and the 179 acres from Herbert Terry & Sons Ltd, no doubt the successors of the 1918 Terry purchasers. Clause 2 of the Conveyance to the Coultons said that the property was conveyed

    "subject to the liability for the repair of the Chancel of Aston Church ….. so far as the same affects the property hereby conveyed and is still subsisting and capable of being enforced."

And under two deeds of gift dated respectively 21 March 1974 and 1 May 1986 Glebe Farm and the bulk of the 179 acres, including all the Clanacre fields, were conveyed to Mrs Wallbank by her parents. Mrs Wallbank later placed the property in the joint names of herself and her husband.

    116. It is plain from this conveyancing history that Mr and Mrs Wallbank acquired Glebe Farm, including Clanacre, with the knowledge that ownership might carry with it a liability to pay for repairs to the chancel of the parish church.

The Chancel Repairs Act 1932

    117. The Chancel Repairs Act 1932 was passed in consequence of the inadequacies of enforcement procedure revealed by litigation between Hauxton PCC and a Mr Stevens. Pre 1932 the enforcement of chancel repair liability was primarily a matter for ecclesiastical courts. Proceedings for the issue of an admonition requiring the alleged lay-rector to carry out the repairs had to be issued in the consistory court. It had been established by dicta in, if not by the ratio of, Walwyn v Awberry that ordinary civil law enforcement procedures were not available. If the consistory court issued the admonition and it was not obeyed, the next step would be either a decree of excommunication or a transfer of the proceedings to the High Court in order for proceedings for committal for contempt of court to be brought, or both. The unfortunate Mr Stevens, having unsuccessfully disputed his liability, ignored the admonition issued by the consistory court. He ended up in prison for contempt under a committal order made in the King's Bench Division. He obtained his release only on undertaking to carry out the requisite repairs.

    118. Such a disproportionate remedy was obviously unsatisfactory and section 2 of the 1932 Act authorised PCCs to serve notices to repair on individuals alleged to be liable for chancel repairs. If such a notice is not complied with, the PCC can commence proceedings in the ordinary courts to recover the sum required to put the chancel in proper repair. The court, if satisfied that the defendant would, but for the 1932 Act, "have been liable to be admonished to repair the chancel by the appropriate ecclesiastical court", can give judgment against the defendant for the sum representing the cost of the necessary repairs. The judgment would be enforceable like any other money judgment. Hence the notices served by the PCC on Mr and Mrs Wallbank and the litigation that followed Mr and Mrs Wallbank's denial of liability.

The Litigation

    119. The pleadings in the case confirmed that there was a dispute as to Mr and Mrs Wallbank's liability to bear the cost of the chancel repairs. On 29 September 1999 the case came before Master Bragge on what I take to have been a summons for Directions. On this Summons Master Bragge directed that two preliminary issues be tried. Each related to contentions by Mr and Mrs Wallbank as to why they were not liable. One of these contentions was abandoned at trial. The other is the issue that has found its way to your Lordships' House. But before reciting its terms it is important to notice an important concession made by Mr Wallbank, who appeared in person, and on the basis of which the Master directed the trial of the preliminary issues. The concession is recorded in the Order in the following terms:

    "And upon the second defendant on his own behalf and on that of the first defendant stating that he agreed and accepted that the defendants (and each of them) as the joint freeholders of Glebe Farm Aston Cantlow Warwickshire are and at all material times have been the Lay Rector and are personally liable for the repair of the Chancel of the Church of St John the Baptist Aston Cantlow Warwickshire ('the Church') if and to the extent that the liability is enforceable and/or exists by reason of the preliminary issues particularised below."

This concession very greatly reduced the number of issues relating to chancel repair liability that Mr and Mrs Wallbank could raise.

    120. The preliminary issue that was, and is, persisted in was subsequently amended and in its amended form is as follows:

    "Whether having regard to the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, a co-rector is liable to repair the Chancel of the Church or otherwise to meet the costs of the said repairs by reason of the provisions of the Chancel Repairs Act 1932 and the common law."

    121. The preliminary issue was tried before Ferris J. It was tried after the Human Rights Act 1998 had been passed but before 2 October 2000, the date on which the Act was to come into effect. In paragraph 9 of his judgment Ferris J described the argument addressed to him by counsel for Mr and Mrs Wallbank as having two main elements, namely,

    "(i) that English law is not yet settled in deciding that a lay rector is liable for chancel repairs, at any rate where the rectorial property owned by that lay rector consists of part only of a larger parcel of land allotted under an inclosure award in lieu of tithes or other rectorial property; and

    (ii) that it should be decided that such a lay rector is not liable because to hold to the contrary would involve a contravention of one or more of the rights declared by the Convention."

    122. I find some difficulty in reconciling the first argument with Mr Wallbank's concession as recited in Master Bragge's order. That, perhaps, does not matter because Ferris J, following Wickhambrook PCC v Croxford [1935] 2 KB 417 and Chivers & Sons Ltd v Air Ministry, [1955] Ch 585 held that it was settled law that an individual who had come into ownership of part only of the rectorial property became liable to the full burden of the chancel repair liability. In the Court of Appeal [2002] Ch 51, 58, para 15, the Vice-Chancellor, Sir Andrew Morritt, relying on the same authorities, agreed and held, in addition, that the liability

    ". . . is not limited or proportioned to the value or fruits of the benefice: its sole measure is the cost of necessary repairs."

This was what had been held in the Wickhambrook PCC case, a case by which the Court of Appeal in the present case was bound. This is not a point which has been argued before your Lordships in the present appeal nor, in my opinion, is it a point which arises under the preliminary issue. It is a point that may re-emerge if the quantum of the cost of repairs for which the Wallbanks are liable has to be litigated. For the present I want to say no more about it than Viscount Simon LC said in the Welsh Commissioners case, namely, that it is a difficult question and that whether Wickhambrook was rightly decided is open to debate at least in this House.

    123. As to the Chivers & Sons Ltd v Air Ministry point (see para 16 of the Vice-Chancellor's judgment) it cannot avail the Wallbanks. The 1918 Conveyance plainly intended to make the Terrys, the transferees, co-rectors. Otherwise there would have been no mention of the chancel repair liability.

    124. As to the second argument for the Wallbanks to which Ferris J referred, the argument based on the 1998 Act, the judge held that there was no breach of article 1 of the First Protocol. The Wallbanks' liability to repair the chancel was an incident of their ownership of the Clanacre fields and the enforcement of that liability by those entitled to enforce it could not be regarded as a deprivation of their possessions. Their possessions, he pointed out, were always liable to such enforcement. Ferris J, therefore, answered in the negative the question posed in the preliminary issue.

    125. The Court of Appeal disagreed with Ferris J on the 1998 Act point. They held, first, that the PCC was a core "public authority" within the meaning of that expression in section 6 of the Act. Section 6(1) provides that

    "It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right."

They held, alternatively, that the PCC's function in enforcing against the Wallbanks their chancel repair liability was a function "of a public nature". Section 6(3)(b) provides that the expression 'public authority' includes

    "any person certain of whose functions are functions of a public nature"

and section 6(5) says that

    "In relation to a particular act, a person is not a public authority by virtue only of subsection (3)(b) if the nature of the act is private".

    126. Having reached conclusions under which the PCC's attempts to enforce the chancel repair liability against the Wallbanks were acts of a public authority for section 6 purposes, the question was whether the enforcement was incompatible with a Convention right. The Court of Appeal first addressed itself to article 1 of the First Protocol and held that the liability to defray the cost of chancel repairs was "inescapably" a form of taxation. The reasoning was that ". . . a private individual who has no necessary connection with the church [was being] required by law to pay money to a public authority for its upkeep" (para 40). The Court of Appeal identified in Strasbourg jurisprudence a requirement that "the legitimate aim of taxation in the public interest must be pursued by means which are not completely arbitrary or out of all proportion to their purpose" (para 44), held that the liability for chancel repair was a tax which operated entirely arbitrarily "first because the land to which it attaches, now shorn of any connection with the rectory, does not differ relevantly from any other freehold land, and secondly because the liability may arise at any time and be . . . in almost any amount"(para 45), and held that the "tax" accordingly violated article 1 of the First Protocol.

    127. The Court of Appeal held, also, that the way in which the chancel repair liability operated discriminated, impermissibly and in breach of article 14, between the Wallbanks, who were subject to the liability, and other landowners in the parish who were not.

    128. The following issues therefore arise for decision on this appeal.

    (1) Is the PCC a "core" public authority for the purposes of section 6 of the 1998 Act?

    (2) If the PCC is not a core public authority, is its function in enforcing chancel repair liability a function "of a public nature"?

    (3) If the PCC's enforcement of chancel repair liability is a function of a public nature, does the enforcement infringe Article 1 of the First Protocol to the Convention?

    (4) Or does it infringe Article 14 of the Convention?

    Is the PCC a core public authority?

    129. I have had the advantage of reading in advance the opinions of my noble and learned friends, Lord Hope of Craighead and Lord Rodger of Earlsferry. Each has concluded that a PCC is not a core public authority. I am in complete agreement with their reasons for coming to that conclusion and cannot usefully add to them. I, too, would hold that a PCC is not a core public authority.

Is the enforcement of chancel repair liability a function of a public nature?

    130. On this issue my noble and learned friends have come to the conclusion that the nature of enforcement of chancel repair liability is private. I have found this a difficult question but at the end have come to the opposite conclusion. I agree with Lord Hope that the answer to the question, whether an authority, not being a 'core' public authority, is, when exercising a particular function, exercising a function of a public nature, must depend upon the facts of the particular case (para 63 of his opinion). The important facts and matters relevant to the question in the present case seem to me, in no particular order of importance, to be the following:

    1. The parish church is a church of the Church of England, a church by law established.

    2. It is a church to which the Anglican public are entitled to have recourse, regardless of whether they are practising members of the church, for marriage, for baptism of their children, for weddings, for funerals and burial, and perhaps for other purposes as well.

    3. Members of other denominations, or even other religions, are, if parishioners, entitled to burial in the parish churchyard.

    4. The church is, therefore, a public building. It is not a private building from which the public can lawfully be excluded at the whim of the owner.

    5. The PCC is corporate and its functions are charitable. Its members have the status of charity trustees. Charitable trusts are public trusts, not private ones.

    6. A decision by a PCC to enforce a chancel repairing liability is a decision taken in the interests of the parishioners as a whole. It is not taken in pursuit of any private interests. If it were so taken, it would I think be impeachable by judicial review.

    131. Lord Hope has said that the liability of the lay rector to repair the chancel arises as a matter of private law from the ownership of glebe land (para 35 of his opinion). I would respectfully question whether the adjective "private" is apt. In the Welsh Commissioners case [1944] AC 228 Sir Walter Monckton KC for the appellants in his submissions to their Lordships commented on the fact that the Welsh Churches Act 1914 had made no express provision for a tribunal to take the place of the consistory court in enforcing chancel repair and put to their Lordships that "Perhaps the Attorney-General might have dealt with the matter as a public right" (p 234). There was no recorded dissent and I respectfully suggest that Sir Walter's comment was soundly based. The liability of a lay rector is a personal liability arising from his ownership of impropriated property and is imposed by common law (see Viscount Simon LC at p 240). But obligations imposed by common law are not necessarily private law obligations. Whether they are so or not must depend on those to whom they are owed. The chancel repair obligations are not owed to private individuals. Private individuals cannot release them. Section 52 of the Ecclesiastical Dilapidations Measure 1923 provided a procedure whereby lay rectors liable for chancel repairs could compound their liability and thereby obtain a release from it. The procedure required there to be consultation with the PCC of the parish, the obtaining of approval from the Diocesan Dilapidations Board and payment of the requisite sum to the Diocesan Authority. The sum paid becomes trust money (see ss.(5)). These provisions have an unmistakable public law flavour to them. The chancel repair obligations resting on a lay rector are not, in my opinion, private law obligations.

    132. In my opinion, therefore, the question posed under this issue should be answered in the affirmative. It follows, if that is right, that in enforcing chancel repair liability, a PCC must not act in a manner incompatible with a Convention right. Is enforcement of chancel repair liability against Mr and Mrs Wallbank an infringement of their rights under article 1 of the First Protocol?

    133. The terms of article 1 have been set out by Lord Hope in paragraph 66 of his opinion. I need not repeat that exercise. The question is whether the enforcement of the chancel repair liability constitutes a deprivation of the lay-rector's possessions. The Court of Appeal prayed in aid the analogy of taxation in order to justify the proposition that the relevant deprivation was of the Wallbanks' funds. It was their personal funds of which they were to be deprived, not Glebe Farm. For my part, although I disagree with the categorisation of the liability as a form of taxation (see para 40 of the Court of Appeal's judgment) I would accept the analysis. The enforcement of the liability is indeed an attack on the Wallbanks' personal funds but it does not on that account infringe article 1 any more than a claim to enforce any other pecuniary liability does so. It is here, perhaps, that the taxation analogy does become relevant. Taxation is a levy imposed by a State, or perhaps by some core public authority authorized by the State to impose the levy, either on the public generally or on some identified section of the public. In Black's Law Dictionary, 6th ed.(1990), 'tax' is described as "a charge by the government …", as a pecuniary burden laid upon individuals or property to support the government, and [being] a payment exacted by legislative authority" and whose "essential characteristics … are that it is not a voluntary payment or donation but an enforced contribution, exacted pursuant to legislative authority". It may be that the obligation imposed on parishioners by the common law to pay tithes to the rector of the parish could, although not imposed by government or by the legislature, reasonably be regarded as an obligation to pay a tax. But the obligation of the recipient of the tithes to repair the chancel of the parish church could not, in my opinion, be so described. When tithe rent-charge took the place of tithes, the obligation to pay the tithe rent-charge might similarly have been regarded as an obligation of a taxation character. But the obligation to repair the chancel of the church resting on the recipient of the tithe rent-charge could not be so described. It remained a quid pro quo for the receipt of the tithe rent-charge. The substitution under an Inclosure Award of land for tithes could no more have changed the nature of the obligation to repair the church chancel than the substitution of tithe rent-charge for tithes could have done. The taxation analogy drawn by the Court of Appeal is, in my respectful opinion, misplaced.

    134. The chancel repair liability satisfies, in my opinion, the requirements of the article 1 exception: it is a liability created by the common law, it operates in the narrow public interest of the parishioners in the parish concerned and in the general public interest in the maintenance of churches. It is created by common law and is subject to the incidents attached to it by common law. And in the case of Mr and Mrs Wallbank they acquired the rectorial property and became lay rectors with full knowledge of the potential liability for chancel repair that that acquisition would carry with it. I can see no infringement of (or incompatibility with) article 1 produced by the actions of the PCC in enforcing that liability.

    135. Nor, in my opinion, do Mr and Mrs Wallbank have any case of infringement of article 14. The comparators for article 14 purposes cannot possibly be persons who are not lay rectors. A person who is sued for £1000 that he owes is not discriminated against for article 14 purposes because people who do not owe £1000 are not similarly sued. A person who builds in breach of planning permission and has proceedings taken against him by the local planning authority is not discriminated against for article 14 purposes because a person who builds and has obtained planning permission is not sued. The comparators are not apt. The apt comparator in the present case would be a co lay rector who was liable for chancel repairs to the Aston Cantlow church but on whom no 1932 Act notice had been served. There is no case here of article 14 discrimination.

    136. For these reasons I would allow the appeal and restore the declaration and order made by Ferris J.

    137. A final point before your Lordships was whether, if the PCC's enforcement of the chancel repair liability had constituted an infringement of Mr and Mrs Wallbank's Convention rights, the PCC could have relied on section 6(2)(a) or (b) of the 1998 Act. As to (a), it was contended that, as a result of section 2 of the 1932 Act, the PCC could not have done otherwise than enforce the chancel repair liability. In my opinion, this contention could not be sustained. Section 2 confers a power. It does not impose a mandatory duty. The PCC could have decided not to enforce the repairing obligation. They could have so decided for a number of different reasons which, in particular factual situations, might have had weight. They might, for example, have recommended the deconsecration of the church and its sale for conversion into a dwelling. They might have taken into account excessive hardship to Mr and Mrs Wallbank in having to find £95,000. Trustees are not always obliged to be Scrooge. Section 2 is not, in my opinion, a provision of primary legislation capable of engaging section 6(2)(a) of the 1998 Act. As to (b), it is not section 2 of the 1932 Act that produces the alleged incompatibility with Convention rights. Section 2 merely provides enforcement machinery for the obligation created by the common law. If section 2 had never been enacted the allegedly Convention infringing obligation to pay for chancel repairs would still have been present. Nonetheless, if the imposition by the common law of the obligation constitutes an infringement of Convention rights so, too, the use of section 2 for the purpose of enforcement would constitute an infringement. So I respectfully agree with my learned friends Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead and Lord Hobhouse of Woodborough that the PCC would be entitled to rely on section 6(2)(b).


My Lords,

    138. In 1986 Mrs Gail Wallbank became the owner of the freehold of Glebe Farm near the village of Aston Cantlow in Warwickshire. Four years later she conveyed the property into the joint names of herself and her husband. As owners of Glebe Farm Mr and Mrs Wallbank are the lay rectors or impropriators of the parish church and, as such, potentially liable to pay the cost of repairs to the chancel. By 1990 the chancel was in disrepair. At that time the Parochial Church Council ("the PCC") did not know about the conveyance into joint names and accordingly it simply asked Mrs Wallbank to pay for the repairs. She disputed the liability. In 1994 the PCC, as the responsible authority, served notice on Mrs Wallbank under section 2(1) of the Chancel Repairs Act 1936, calling on her to repair the chancel. When she still refused to do so, the PCC began these proceedings under section 2(2) of the 1936 Act to recover over £95,000, the estimated cost of the repairs. Subsequently, the PCC joined Mr Wallbank as a defendant.

    139. My noble and learned friend Lord Scott of Foscote has described the origins and development of the liability for chancel repairs as well as the way in which that liability attaches to the owners of Glebe Farm. The law as it applies today can scarcely be regarded as satisfactory and may well cause real hardship to lay rectors who are called on to pay the cost of repairs to the chancel. Not surprisingly, the Law Commission have made proposals for the abolition of the liability over a period of time: Liability for Chancel Repairs (Law Com No 152, (1985)). Not altogether surprisingly either, Parliament has not yet acted on those proposals since abolition without compensation would cause significant financial harm to many ancient parish churches throughout England. This case highlights both aspects of the problem.

    140. Mr and Mrs Wallbank do not now dispute that, absent the Human Rights Act 1998 ("the 1998 Act"), they would be liable to pay the reasonable cost of the necessary repairs to the chancel. They defend the proceedings, however, on the basis that the PCC is a "public authority" which has acted unlawfully in terms of section 6(1) of the 1998 Act by requiring them to pay the sum in question and so interfering with their peaceful enjoyment of their possessions in contravention of article 1 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ("the Convention").

    141. The demand for payment was made and the action begun long before the 1998 Act was even thought of. And indeed Ferris J heard argument and delivered judgment at first instance some months before the Act came into force. By the time of the hearing in the Court of Appeal the 1998 Act was in force and the PCC conceded that, by virtue of sections 7(1)(b) and 22(4), Mr and Mrs Wallbank were entitled to rely on their Convention right. In their judgment delivered by Sir Andrew Morritt V-C, the Court of Appeal accepted the concession: [2001] EWCA 713; [2002] Ch 51, 56, para 7. In its written case in this House the PCC indicated an intention to withdraw the concession. When the appeal opened, however, Mr George QC indicated that he did not intend to argue the point. This may have been, in part at least, because the Church authorities are anxious to have the substantial issue resolved. In these circumstances the House heard no argument on what the cases show to be a difficult area of the law. I therefore prefer to express no view on the point.

    142. Differing from the decision of Ferris J, the Court of Appeal disposed of the case by holding that the liability of Mr and Mrs Wallbank, as lay rectors, to meet the cost of the chancel repairs was unenforceable by reason of the 1998 Act. In that way the Court of Appeal lifted the burden from lay rectors like Mr and Mrs Wallbank, albeit at the expense of PCCs like the one at Aston Cantlow. The question for the House is whether the Court of Appeal were right to take this momentous step on the basis of the 1998 Act.

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