Discussion of who might become the next Archbishop of Canterbury has included the question of how long potential candidates could serve before they had to retire. It seems helpful to set out the law on this matter.
In the Church of England there is a compulsory retirement age of 70 for all clergy (with just a few exceptions, none relevant to archbishops or bishops) in the following categories:
This is set out in section 1 of the Ecclesiastical Offices (Age Limit) Measure 1975, and the schedule to the measure.
However in certain circumstances such clergy may continue to serve for a limited period past 70. For archbishops this is for a maximum of one year, provided that the Queen considers it desirable and authorises it. This is set out in section 2 of the measure.
2 Archbishop may continue in office for certain period after attaining retiring age at discretion of Her Majesty.
Where Her Majesty considers that there are special circumstances which make it desirable that a person holding the office of archbishop should continue in that office after the date on which he would otherwise retire in accordance with the foregoing section, She may authorise the continuance in office of that person after that date for such period, not exceeding one year, as She may in her discretion determine.
I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that Her Majesty would, as usual, exercise her powers under the measure on the advice of her prime minister. The British constitutional convention is that she always accepts that advice, as for example she does when appointing bishops and archbishops.
Similarly diocesan bishops can be given a year’s extension by their archbishop. For example, the current Bishop of Manchester has been given such an extension and will retire on his 71st birthday. A diocesan bishop can give a two year extension to parish clergy and a one year extension to other clergy in his diocese. Details are in section 3 of the measure.
There are further provision relating to the retirement of archbishops and bishops in the Bishops (Retirement) Measure 1986, but these relate only to the process, and not to the principle of a maximum retirement age.