Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860

The Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 (ECJA[2]) (23 & 24 Vict. c. 32) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It is one of the Ecclesiastical Courts Acts 1787 to 1860.[3]

Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860[1]
Act of Parliament
Long titleAn Act to abolish the Jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Courts in Ireland in Cases of Defamation, and in England and Ireland in certain Cases of Brawling.
Citation23 & 24 Vict. c. 32
Territorial extent 
  • England and Wales
  • Ireland
Royal assent3 July 1860
Status: Amended
Text of statute as originally enacted
Text of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from

Sections still in use


Section 2


Section 2 provides that it is not lawful for any person to behave in a 'riotous, violent, or indecent' way in a number of religious locations, whether during 'the celebration of divine service or at any other time'. Locations include cathedral, parish and district churches, chapels of the Church of England or other religious denominations or locations outlined in the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855. Locations also include any churchyards or burial grounds.

Furthermore, Section 2 states that it is not lawful for any person to interfere with any preacher or clergyman in any cathedral, church, chapel, churchyard or burial ground, by way of molesting, letting, disturbing, vexing, troubling or by 'any other unlawful means disquiet or misuse'.

If a person is found guilty of those offences, they are liable to a fine or imprisonment of up to two months.[4]

Section 3


Section 3 relates to Section 2, stating that a person 'in the premises after the said mis-demeanor' may be apprehended by a constable or church warden and taken before a magistrates' court.[5]

Section 4


Section 4 also relates to Section 2, stating that a person who is 'aggrieved' by their conviction under Section 2, may appeal it at a Crown Court.[6]

Section 7


Section 7 states that 'provided also, that nothing herein contained shall limit, restrain or abolish the power possessed by the ordinary over the fabric of any church or over the churchyard or burial ground connected therewith'.[7]

Repealed sections


Section 1


Section 1 provided that it was not lawful for an ecclesiastical court in England or Ireland to entertain or adjudicate on a suit or cause of brawling or defamation against any person not in holy orders.

Where a person had been committed to gaol under a writ de contumace capiendo, that person was to be discharged.

This section was repealed by section 87 of, and Schedule 5 to, the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963.[8]

Section 5


This section repealed the Brawling Act 1551. This section was repealed by the Statute Law Revision Act 1875.

Section 6


This section provided that nothing contained hereinbefore in this Act was to be taken to repeal or alter the Brawling Act 1553, the Act of Uniformity 1558 or section 18 of the Toleration Act 1688. This section was repealed by section 1 of, and Part II of the Schedule to, the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1969.



In 1966, a church service at the Labour party’s annual conference in Blackpool was interrupted by several protesters calling out, angered by Labour’s stand on Vietnam. Under Section 2 of the Act, one of the group was sentenced to two months in prison and a £200 fine.[9]

In 1998, during a church service at Cantebury Cathedral, homosexual rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and others from the campaign group OutRage! interrupted a service led by Archbishop Dr George Carey, by climbing into the pulpit. Their protest was in relation to what the group called Archbishop Carey’s ‘support for discrimination against lesbians and gay men’. Under Section 2 of the Act, Tatchell was fined £18.60 and ordered to pay costs of £320.[9][10]

In 2002, the House of Lords' Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales delivered their First Report. In Chapter 3 of this report, they examined the "Law as it stands", including looking at "Old statutes". This included the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860, where they revealed that "According to statistics made available by the Home Office, there were 60 prosecutions under this Act in the six years 1997–2002, with 21 convictions." In his evidence to the Committee, David Calvert-Smith, the Director of Public Prosecutions said that: "We use it sufficiently often or have used it in the past for it obviously to be the right offence to use and a redrafted Section 2 would probably be a (albeit infrequently used) valuable offence."[2]

In a landmark decision in 2017, a new law was enacted, nicknamed "Turing's Law", which will allow posthumous pardons for anyone convicted under former law, including, but not exclusively the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860,[dubiousdiscuss] the 1956 and 1967 Sexual Offences Acts, both of which yet remain to be overturned. Under the new law, descendants, relatives, and advocates can now apply to have the records of dead gay and bisexual men cleared in the law. Several restrictions, as yet, remain in place. The restrictions mean that pardons might not be granted in more complicated cases like that of Oscar Wilde, who was convicted of gross indecency with evidence that he frequented prostitutes. Justice minister Sam Gyimah, who advocated for the legislation, said, "This is a truly momentous day. We can never undo the hurt caused, but we have apologised and taken action to right these wrongs. I am immensely proud that 'Turing’s law' has become a reality under this government." Human rights advocate Peter Tatchell estimated that between 50,000 and 100,000 men who were convicted under various anti-gay laws in the UK may be eligible for pardons. Tatchell noted that some laws are not specifically mentioned as being up for pardon. "It does not explicitly allow for the pardoning of men convicted of soliciting and procuring homosexual relations under the 1956 and 1967 Sexual Offences Acts. Nor does it pardon those people, including some lesbians, convicted for same-sex kissing and cuddling under laws such as the Public Order Act 1986, the common law offence of outraging public decency, the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 and the army, navy and air force acts and other diverse statutes."

The law only applies to cases where the offences would not be considered crimes today. The law was modelled on the Queen's 2013 posthumous pardon of Alan Turing, who helped decode encrypted messages sent by Nazi Germany in World War II but was convicted of gross indecency after the war.[11]


  1. ^ The citation of this Act by this short title was authorised by section 1 of, and Schedule 1 to, the Short Titles Act 1896. Due to the repeal of those provisions, it is now authorised by section 19(2) of the Interpretation Act 1978.
  2. ^ a b "Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales First Report: CHAPTER 3: The Law as it Stands". UK Parliament. Archived from the original on 7 November 2011. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  3. ^ The Short Titles Act 1896, section 2(1) and Schedule 2
  4. ^ . 21 January 2024 {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ . 21 January 2024 {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ . 21 January 2024 {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ . 21 January 2024 {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ "Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963". The National Archives. 1978 c. 30 (sch. 5).
  9. ^ a b "BBC News | UK | Tatchell charged under 138-year-old law". Retrieved 21 January 2024.
  10. ^ "Tatchell fined for cathedral protest". The Irish Times. Retrieved 21 January 2024.
  11. ^ Bollinger, Alex (February 2017). "UK could posthumously pardon over 100,000 sodomy convictions". LGBTQ Nation. Retrieved 30 June 2021.