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A visitor, in English and Welsh law and history, is an overseer of an autonomous ecclesiastical or eleemosynary institution, often a charitable institution set up for the perpetual distribution of the founder's alms and bounty, who can intervene in the internal affairs of that institution. Those with such visitors are mainly cathedrals, chapels, schools, colleges, universities, and hospitals.
Many visitors hold their role ex officio, by serving as the British sovereign, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, the Lord President of the Council, the Lord Chief Justice, or the bishop of a particular diocese. Others can be appointed in various ways, depending on the constitution of the organization in question. Bishops are usually the visitors to their own cathedrals. The King usually delegates his visitatorial functions to the Lord Chancellor.
During the reform of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the 19th century, Parliament ordered visitations to the universities to make inquiries and to reform the university and college statutes.
There is a ceremonial element to the role, and the visitor may also be called upon to give advice where an institution expresses doubt as to its powers under its charter and statutes. However, the most important function of the visitor was within academic institutions, where the visitor had to determine disputes arising between the institution and its members.
The right of the visitor, and not the courts, to adjudge on alleged deviations from the statutes of academic colleges was affirmed in the case of Philips v. Bury, 1694, in which the House of Lords overruled a judgment of the Court of King's Bench.