Peterborough Consistory Court; Coningsby Ch. November 1996
The incumbent and churchwardens, acting on behalf of the PCC. sought a faculty for the erection of two "label stops" at the top of columns in the nave where arches met in a V., The location was chosen becaue each of the other five columns was adorned with a human likeness dating from medieval times and the two which were missing had probably been removed during early Victorian restoration. The project, modest in cost and to be funded by private donations, was proposed as a light hearted finishing touch to a major re-ordering of the church and as a mark of appreciation for the incumbent and the diocesan bishop each of whom was nearing the end of his ministry and had in fact retired by the time of the hearing. Four parishioners pursued their objections to the hearing. The Chancellor accepted expert evidence called on behalf of the petitioners (no contrary evidence being tendered by the objectors) that the inclusion of carved likenesses of living persons within church architecture had been common over many centuries and contemporary examples were numerous. He therefore rejected the argument that the erection of these label stops was wrong in principle or would establish a precedent. Further, he accepted the proposition advanced by counsel for the petitioners that since the label stops were not memorials, the test of 'exceptionality" propounded by the Dean of the Arches in Re Si Margaret's. Eartham  1 WLR 1129 was of no appplication. In a very detailed judgment the Chancellor rejected each of the other objections which were advanced. These included: that there should be no representation of a person other than Jesus Christ in a church: that living persons should never be represented lest they subsequently 'fall from grace"; that the caricatures would be a focus of disunity; that they would distract from worship; that the project represented self-aggrandisement on the part of the persons being honoured; and that approximately one-third of those on the electoral roll who participated in a ballot were opposed to the project. Whilst the application was at an interlocutory stage, the objectors had agreed with the petitioners that the rural dean would conduct a secret ballot of all those on the electoral roll and in the event that the majority favoured the proposal they would withdraw their objections. However, when it became known that the majority did support the proposal, theiobjectors indicated to the Chancellor that they wished to persist in their objection. The Chancellor, mindful that faculty applications concerned a permissive right and were not proceedings inter paries, and not having himself condoned the ballot, did not hold the objectors to their agreement since, even absent any objection, the petitioners would still have had to prove their case, a hearing would have been necessary and the participation of the objectors would assist the court. He also felt constrained to disclose to the parties the voting figures in the secret ballot which had been communicated to him in confidence by the rural dean. On the question of costs, neither the petitioners nor the objectors sought costs inter path's but there was argument as to the payment of court fees. The Chancellor took the view that some form of hearing would have been required even had the petition been unopposed. Nonetheless the objectors ought to make a contribution particularly for the period following receipt of the petitioners' expert evidence when their position became all but untenable. Accordingly, he ordered that the objectors indemnify the petitioners to the extent of 50 per cent of their costs from May to October 1996 and 65 per cent from October 1996 to the conclusion of the case.
(1997) 4 Ecc LJ 764-765