The Tower Handbook

7.5: Legal responsibilities

a: Do we need to worry about legality as ringers?

We included this section since it is worth reminding ourselves that there often is a legal aspect to any public activity. As members of a band of ringers, you will from time to time do things where you are acting as agents of the church [67]. You should therefore make sure the church officials understand what you are or will be doing, and that you comply with any associated legal requirements. In this Handbook there are specific sections on topics with possible legal implications: safety (3.1), insurance (7.6), finances (7.7), bell noise complaints(8.2 c-e), bat conservation (14.12 g), faculties (7.5b) working with children (7.5c).

b: What is a faculty?

Church of England buildings are exempt from normal planning regulations, but permission to make any alterations to their fabric is granted under ecclesiastical law. The document granting such permission is a faculty. Some small changes or repairs do not need a faculty and your Diocese will have a 'de minimis' list which itemises these. If you are in any doubt, consult your clergy or churchwardens who should have a copy of the list. It is they who are legally responsible for what is done.

Obtaining a faculty adds an extra level of complexity to doing anything, but the principle behind it is reasonable. The aim is to protect church buildings in the long term from ill considered short term actions. The best way to deal with the resulting bureaucratic constraint is to plan ahead so you have time to go through the procedures and to consult the authorities involved so you know what is required, and they understand exactly what you want to do and why. If your need is reasonable, and you are not compromising the structural, historic or aesthetic value of the church, this approach should be successful.

c: Do we need to use special procedures with children?

Naturally you have more responsibility when you are teaching or organising events for young children since it is unreasonable to expect them to take as much responsibility for themselves as adults would. Most children involved with ringing are teenagers, but they vary considerably from person to person. Many behave like adults (though not all) but legally they are still minors.

The most significant change in recent years affecting people dealing with children has been the wave of reaction to revelations of child abuse in various places. At the time of writing this handbook, we cannot predict the final situation, since there is still much flux as the various Dioceses put in place defensive procedures and regulations to cover themselves and 'church workers' (which includes anyone playing a supervisory role in the tower).

The following pattern seems to be emerging, but you should check what applies in your own case.

If you are a seasoned ringer who grew up before the advent of our litigious age, or if you view the Church and the ringing fraternity as one of trust, you may be dismayed at the extremes to which these new precautions are going. We sympathise, but sadly that is the sort of world we now live in. While we would all hope to run our towers in ways that engender mutual trust, as members of the Church we must also co-operate with the Church authorities and abide by their rules. Find out what measures will apply to your tower, consider their practical impact and decide how you can adapt the way you do things to minimise the impact. For example:

In all cases, you will suffer less disruption if you think ahead and plan how you can comply with the requirements placed on you. Don't just take the easy option of not doing things because 'it is all too difficult'. You may be able to negotiate special arrangements with your PCC if you have a particular problem.

It is sad that our society has come to the point where we are required to conduct our affairs assuming that no-one can be trusted to behave responsibly with youngsters. It would be even sadder if the result was to kill off the very activities which are intended to enrich the experience of the very same youngsters. Try not to let it happen.

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