Litigation Letter

Bishop not vicariously liable for vicarial campanology

Calvert v Gardiner and others (QBD TLR 22 July)

The claimant sought damages against the vicar, two church wardens, the Parochial Church Council and the Diocesan Bishop of Exeter for nuisance caused by the ringing of bells at high levels in the church of Down St Mary, Crediton, Devon. The bishop applied to strike out the claim against him or for summary judgment under CPR Part 24. The operation of church bells vests in the vicar of the parish church in which the bells are rung. The bishop does not authorise the ringing of the bells. Nor is he responsible for bell ringing by virtue of the nature of the structure of the Church of England, because there is a clear demarcation of responsibility; bishops and other clergy have separate and distinct ministries and spheres of operation. The bishop did not have the power to make the vicar stop the bell ringing, nor had he any power to discipline the vicar in respect of it. A bishop could not just give instruction to a vicar and expect him to obey under his oath of canonical obedience because the vicar was expected to obey only those orders the bishop was authorised to give. In these circumstances the bishop could not be said to have authorised the purported nuisance and there was no prospect of the case against him succeeding.

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