Consistory court
The consistory court is a type of ecclesiastical court
Ecclesiastical court
An ecclesiastical court is any of certain courts having jurisdiction mainly in spiritual or religious matters. In the Middle Ages in many areas of Europe these courts had much wider powers than before the development of nation states...

, especially within the Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

. They were established by a charter of King William I of England
William I of England
William I , also known as William the Conqueror , was the first Norman King of England from Christmas 1066 until his death. He was also Duke of Normandy from 3 July 1035 until his death, under the name William II...

, and still exist today, although since about the middle of the 19th century consistory courts have lost much of their subject-matter jurisdiction
Subject-matter jurisdiction
Subject-matter jurisdiction is the authority of a court to hear cases of a particular type or cases relating to a specific subject matter. For instance, bankruptcy court only has the authority to hear bankruptcy cases....

. Each diocese
A diocese is the district or see under the supervision of a bishop. It is divided into parishes.An archdiocese is more significant than a diocese. An archdiocese is presided over by an archbishop whose see may have or had importance due to size or historical significance...

 in the Church of England has a consistory court (called in the Diocese of Canterbury
Canterbury is a historic English cathedral city, which lies at the heart of the City of Canterbury, a district of Kent in South East England. It lies on the River Stour....

 the Commissary Court).


Before 1858 consistory courts exercised jurisdiction (concurrently with the courts of their respective provinces) over matrimonial and probate
Probate is the legal process of administering the estate of a deceased person by resolving all claims and distributing the deceased person's property under the valid will. A probate court decides the validity of a testator's will...

 matters. This jurisdiction was moved to the secular courts by the Court of Probate Act 1857
Court of Probate Act 1857
The Court of Probate Act 1857 transferred responsibility for the granting of probate, and letters of administration, from the ecclesiastical courts of England and Wales to a new civil Court of Probate. It created a Principal Probate Registry in London and a number of district probate registries....

 and the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857
Matrimonial Causes Act 1857
The Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 was an Act of Parliament passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The Act reformed the law on divorce, moving litigation from the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts to the civil courts, establishing a model of marriage based on contract rather than...

. Consistory courts also had corrective jurisdiction over the crimes of clerks, but this was abrogated by the Church Discipline Act 1840. Other former areas of jurisdiction included defamation and certain contracts cases.

Today, the principal business of consistory courts is now the dispensing of faculties
Planning permission
Planning permission or planning consent is the permission required in the United Kingdom in order to be allowed to build on land, or change the use of land or buildings. Within the UK the occupier of any land or building will need title to that land or building , but will also need "planning...

 dealing with churchyards and church property, although they also hear the trial of clergy (below the rank of bishop) accused of immoral acts or misconduct (under the Clergy Discipline Act 1892).


The Consistory court usually sits "on paper" without formal hearings. When hearings are required they can be held in any convenient building; either an existing court building or a school or community hall hired for the purpose. Historically consistory courts had a say in the cathedral
A cathedral is a Christian church that contains the seat of a bishop...

 and many cathedrals still contain court rooms, although these are now used for other purposes. Consistory courts dealing with faculty applications may sit in the church affected.


Each Consistory court is presided over by the Chancellor
Chancellor (ecclesiastical)
Two quite distinct officials of some Christian churches have the title Chancellor.*In some churches, the Chancellor of a diocese is a lawyer who represents the church in legal matters....

 of the Diocese
(or in Canterbury the Commissary-General). The chancellor is appointed by letters patent
Letters patent
Letters patent are a type of legal instrument in the form of a published written order issued by a monarch or president, generally granting an office, right, monopoly, title, or status to a person or corporation...

. All jurisdiction, both contentious and voluntary, is committed to the Chancellor under two separate offices, those of official principal and vicar-general: the distinction between the two offices is that the official principal usually exercises contentious jurisdiction and the vicar-general voluntary jurisdiction. (Technically the bishop himself may sit, but this no longer happens and is regarded as an obsolete anomaly.)

The chancellor must be over 30 years of age, a barrister
A barrister is a member of one of the two classes of lawyer found in many common law jurisdictions with split legal professions. Barristers specialise in courtroom advocacy, drafting legal pleadings and giving expert legal opinions...

 of seven years' standing or who has held high judicial office, and a communicant of the Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

. He takes the judicial oath, the oath of allegiance
Oath of allegiance
An oath of allegiance is an oath whereby a subject or citizen acknowledges a duty of allegiance and swears loyalty to monarch or country. In republics, modern oaths specify allegiance to the country's constitution. For example, officials in the United States, a republic, take an oath of office that...

 and makes a declaration of assent. The chancellor may be removed by the bishop if the Upper House of the Convocation
A Convocation is a group of people formally assembled for a special purpose.- University use :....

 of the province so resolves.

Chancellors are addressed on the bench as “Worshipful Sir" or "Sir”. Most wear the robes of a QC
Queen's Counsel
Queen's Counsel , known as King's Counsel during the reign of a male sovereign, are lawyers appointed by letters patent to be one of Her [or His] Majesty's Counsel learned in the law...

 even if not of that degree, though at least one sits in his academical robes. The court itself is styled "this venerable court". Most have a mace
Ceremonial mace
The ceremonial mace is a highly ornamented staff of metal or wood, carried before a sovereign or other high official in civic ceremonies by a mace-bearer, intended to represent the official's authority. The mace, as used today, derives from the original mace used as a weapon...

, carried by the apparitor
In ancient Rome, an apparitor was a civil servant whose salary was paid from the public treasury. The apparitores assisted the magistrates. There were four occupational grades among them...

, who is usually a member of the staff of the diocesan registry and who is the official who serves the processes of the court and causes defendants to appear by summons.

There may also be a deputy chancellor, who may hear certain matters. He must be a barrister of seven years' standing or have held high judicial office.


The registrar of the diocese is also the registrar of the consistory court. He was usually also the legal secretary to the bishop, and now must be a legal adviser, and is registrar to the archdeacon
An archdeacon is a senior clergy position in Anglicanism, Syrian Malabar Nasrani, Chaldean Catholic, and some other Christian denominations, above that of most clergy and below a bishop. In the High Middle Ages it was the most senior diocesan position below a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church...

s. He must be a solicitor
Solicitors are lawyers who traditionally deal with any legal matter including conducting proceedings in courts. In the United Kingdom, a few Australian states and the Republic of Ireland, the legal profession is split between solicitors and barristers , and a lawyer will usually only hold one title...

 learned in ecclesiastical law, and be a communicant of the Church of England. He is appointed by the bishop after consultation with the Bishop's Council and the Standing Committee of Diocesan Synod
A synod historically is a council of a church, usually convened to decide an issue of doctrine, administration or application. In modern usage, the word often refers to the governing body of a particular church, whether its members are meeting or not...

. Each consistory court has a seal, which is in the care of the registrar. There may be a deputy registrar, who acts only in the absence of the registrar. There may be a separate clerk of the court, if there might be a conflict of interest for the registrar to act in this capacity. He must be a solicitor.

Discipline of clergy

The consistory court can only become involved in the case of a priest
A priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities...

 or deacon
Deacon is a ministry in the Christian Church that is generally associated with service of some kind, but which varies among theological and denominational traditions...

 who is accused of an offence (not involving matters of doctrine, ritual or ceremonial) after the bishop has given the complainant and the accused an opportunity of seeing him. The bishop may decide not to proceed, but if he does favour a trial, the matter is referred to an examiner with legal qualifications (who must be a communicant). If he decides that there is a case to answer, then the trial begins in the consistory court.

Trials and appeals

The chancellor is expected to appoint a deputy chancellor if he himself is inexperienced in criminal law. In a trial the court comprises four assessors, two lay and two clerical, who are the sole finders of fact, and their verdict must be unanimous. The judge is required to sum up in open court to the assessors. If the chancellor certifies that the case involves a question of doctrine, ritual or ceremonial, appeal lies to the Court for Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved. In the case of faculties, appeal lies to the provincial court (either the Arches Court
Arches Court
The Arches Court, presided over by the Dean of Arches, is an ecclesiastical court of the Church of England covering the Province of Canterbury. Its equivalent in the Province of York is the Chancery Court.-Provincial Court:...

 for Canterbury or the Chancery Court
Chancery Court
The Chancery Court of York is an ecclesiastical court for the Province of York of the Church of England.The presiding officer, the Official Principal and Auditor, has been the same person as the Dean of the Arches since the nineteenth century . The Court comprises the Auditor, two clergy and two...

 for York), and then to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council
Judicial Committee of the Privy Council
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is one of the highest courts in the United Kingdom. Established by the Judicial Committee Act 1833 to hear appeals formerly heard by the King in Council The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) is one of the highest courts in the United...

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