What recent assessment the commissioners have made of the effectiveness of the process of appeal against consistory court decisions to the provincial court of the archbishop.
The decision of a consistory court can, with permission, be appealed to the relevant provincial court, provided that the appeal does not relate to a question of doctrine, ritual or ceremonial. As in the temporal courts, an appeal must have a real prospect of success, or there should be some other compelling reason why the appeal should be heard.
I want to pay tribute to the family of Margaret Keane, whose grief at the loss of their mother has been compounded by still not having a headstone on her grave to visit this Christmas, two and a half years on from her death. The family have said that Margaret is “In our hearts forever”—“In ár gcroíthe go deo”—and that sentiment is shared now by the Irish community in Britain. May I ask the commissioner—I thank him and the Church for their engagement with me and the work they do in Saint Helens in the diocese of Liverpool—if a review can take place into the current appeals system in ecclesiastical courts, whereby even successful appellants are liable potentially for huge court costs to an unlimited amount? This is an access to justice issue and one of fairness that should be looked at.
I am sure that the whole House would want to extend their sympathies to the Keane family, and I am hopeful that change is on the way. The Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure 2020, which was recently passed by this House, provides for exemptions from and reductions in court fees in the ecclesiastical courts to be made in secondary legislation. The Fees Advisory Commission will be asked to consider these provisions and, following that, an Order in General Synod will be made next year and will be laid before Parliament.