From the Chairman: The ELS and Coronavirus: update

March 17, 2020

Dear Member,

Following Friday’s notice of cancellation of the Day Conference and AGM, I promised a fuller explanatory note of how the ELS is responding to current public health concerns and the spread of Covid-19. And here it is. But first I should like to thank the membership for the many get well messages and gifts I have received since being struck down with flu. I have been very touched by your kindness, which has made my continuing self-isolation more bearable.

Day Conference

With Winckworth Sherwood no longer able to accommodate meetings of groups larger than 20, our Day Conference became untenable. I am grateful to the Dean of Southwark for offering the cathedral nave for the lectures, but even that would have been unwise as the medical and scientific evidence unfolded. We owe a duty of care to our members and the public generally, hence the decision to cancel became inevitable. I hope to explore with the Archbishop of York capturing his keynote address in some other way, but this is likely to be after he has stood down. I am aware that the editor of the Journal is pursuing the Bishop of Cork for the text of his lecture, and I remain hopeful that some of the wisdom which would have been shared in the Day Conference might be disseminated to other members in some other way.


The Notice of AGM for 28 March has now been withdrawn. The constitution of the CIO requires its first AGM to be held within 18 months of incorporation, namely by 5 July 2020. To be quorate, 5 per cent of the membership must be present, namely 35 persons. We will give some thought to finding an alternative date but, in reality, the public health situation will not have resolved and accordingly we will seek permission from the Charity Commission to delay the AGM to the Autumn. We will try and link it with another ELS event and give as much notice as possible.

Other cancellations

The London Lecture which I was due to deliver on 8 April 2020 is cancelled, but I hope to circulate a brief note on the Faculty Jurisdiction (Amendment) Rules before they come into force.  The Education Committee’s seminar on Good Governance for PCCs in Winchester is also cancelled. The rest of the Society’s events, including two Northern Province lectures, remain in the diary, but this will be kept under review. We are working on the basis that things will be back to normal in the Autumn, when the Lyndwood Lecture will additionally take place, but everything must be regarded as provisional in the current climate.


The costs of the conference were kept to a minimum largely due to the provision of the venue without cost. This allowed us to keep prices very low, especially for members. While we have endeavoured to mitigate our losses, the cancellation of the conference could prove a heavy financial hit for the Society. I would therefore like to make a request of everyone who booked for the conference: namely, that you do not seek a refund but instead treat the fee as a donation to the charitable work of the Society. The Treasurer would be delighted if you were to contact him so it could be Gift Aided. As many people have mentioned, there has been a transformation in the Society in last few years in terms of its activities and educational outreach, reflected in a significant increase in membership, attendance at events and general visibility. That work cannot continue without a consistent revenue source. I appreciate, however, that for various some reasons some may not be in a position to offer this support, in which case please contact Andrew Male for reimbursement.

Recovery plan

The Standing Committee next meets (by telephone) on Wednesday 1 April, when I hope to put the Society on something of a war footing. I am not prepared to allow the current hiatus to lead to a loss of momentum undoing all good work of the last three years. I will propose we focus on (a) an intensive membership drive; (b) streamlined administration for the CIO and (c) providing the best possible programme of events for 2021 in London, the North, and at the residential conference in Newcastle, of which more shortly. But with social distancing, I want us to see increased use of our website as the “go-to” resource for ecclesiastical law. I hope to circulate each week a note on a substantive aspect of ecclesiastical law. Would members please give suggestions of topics to John Ford and, more especially, supply material which can be shared? Russell Dewhurst would also welcome people with IT skills who have a few hours to spare to help the Society.

The next meeting of Trustees (which will now have to be virtual) will take place on 29 April and its focus will be on education in ecclesiastical law, giving the Education Committee, and its chair, Simon Baker, a fresh mandate for the next three years.

Working party on the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 (as amended)  

Following the widespread appreciation expressed to Peter Collier QC for his authoritative study on Safeguarding and the Church, I have received requests from many people, including the Society’s President, to establish an ELS working party on the workings of the CDM. I have prevailed on Peter to convene this working party and a further communication will set out how the membership can help with this work. It will be independent of, but complementary to, the review being carried out by the Bishop at Lambeth. Watch this space.

Reading material in self-isolation    

It is going to be tough in quarantine, but what better way to get through it than to read the fourth edition of Hill’s Ecclesiastical Law? A few copies of the special edition paperback remain at the give-away price of £40. Order here. And – I will say it before anyone else does – it could be invaluable when you run out of toilet paper.

So don’t be downhearted. As my parish priest, Sam Wells, tweeted at the weekend: We’re a community defined not by fear but by trust, not by scarcity but by plenty, not by anxiety but by communion.

With my best wishes to all of you in these troubled times,


Mark Hill QC: Chairman, Ecclesiastical Law Society