A couple who fell foul of an old law applying to their property are faced with a bill for building repairs and legal costs estimated at £400,000, following a reverse in the House of Lords.
Warwickshire couple Andrew and Gail Wallbank are owners of Glebe Farm in the county. The farmland includes a field which is classified under ecclesiastical law as ‘rectorial property’. Unfortunately for the Wallbanks, under the Chancel Repairs Act 1932 (which itself is based on ancient law), their ownership of the rectorial property rendered them responsible for the cost of repairs to their village church, St John the Baptist Church of Aston Cantlow.
The Wallbanks took their case all the way to the House of Lords, arguing that their liability was limited to keeping the chancel of the church wind and watertight, and did not extend to providing the ‘Rolls-Royce job’ sought by the church authorities. A previous appeal to the Lords, based on the argument that the demand was an infringement of their Human Rights, had already been turned down. Regrettably for them, the House of Lords rejected their arguments. They had been victorious in the Court of Appeal, which held that their liability was a form of taxation which was unfair and arbitrary. That decision was appealed by the church authorities.
The cost of the repairs for which they are responsible amounts to approximately £200,000 and in addition the Wallbanks are liable for both their and the church authorities’ costs, which could double to total bill.