One way the government could reduce spending, while promoting its ideal of the freedom of the individual, would be to abolish chancel repair liability. If more applications are made by parochial church councils (PCCs) for registration of notices against lay rectors’ titles, leading up to the registration deadline of 12 October 2013, more and more time will be spent by Land Registry staff dealing with disputes about registrations. More and more time will also be spent by staff of the National Archives dealing with chancel repair searches.
It is contrary to the principles of religious freedom and individual liberty that an owner of land should have a liability to repair the chancel of his parish church, in perpetuity and without payment.
The government has invited the public to contribute ideas on its Your Freedom website, and to vote on the ideas submitted. Few people have yet voted on chancel repair liability. They should.
Letters should also be sent to Lord McNally, minister of justice responsible for legislation and law reform. McNally is also responsible for the Land Registry and the National Archives.
The Church of England abolished chancel liability for its own clergy in 1923, but will not think about doing so for the rest of us until after 12 October 2013. This archaic muddle is being left to the lawyers and parliament to sort out, but it seems few PCCs are attempting to register.
It has been suggested by church lawyers that abolition would infringe article 1 of the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights. As is well known, the article protects the freedom of natural and legal persons to enjoy their possessions. However, this right is not absolute and, where it is in the public interest, the state has the right to control the use of property in accordance with the law.
If the church or any PCC believes this article has been infringed, it has the right to take its case to the European Court of Human Rights, which in theory might award compensation. The government then has the right to deduct the amount of any such compensation awards from the budget of English Heritage for payments for church repairs.
Michael Hall , Orpington, Kent