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Union’s response to the Sharpe judgment

15 May 2015


From the Revd Peter Hobson

Sir, - The recent judgment concerning the Revd Mark Sharpe's case against the Bishop of Worcester (News, 8 May) clearly concludes his attempt to obtain justice through our normative legal system.

The Court of Appeal has decided that Church of England clergy are not able to seek an independent review of ways in which they have suffered when working for the Church. We believe that the clarity of this judgment and the presuppositions that lie behind it allow us to know where ministers of the Church of England - and indeed many other religious organisations - find themselves before the law.

The assumption of our society - reflected in legislation by Parliament - is that people who have suffered racial discrimination can complain to a court and seek redress; but ministers of the Church of England cannot complain to secular courts, and there is no church redress.

People should not be compelled to retire at a particular age without consideration of their physical or intellectual capability; but ministers of the Church of England cannot complain to a secular court about this, and are obliged to retire by church law at a set age.

People should not face persecution or detriment because of their sex or sexuality; but ministers of the Church of England cannot complain to a secular court, and there is no church redress.

Instead, the Appeal Judges in their wisdom have decreed, by appeal to Magna Carta, no less, that the historic parallel legal systems still apply to clergy, and are different from those available to the rest of the nation. Indeed, in a pronouncement even more astounding, they have accepted evidence that the Canons of the Church and, indeed, the very oaths of canonical obedience which are intended to make them effective, while being the "law of the land", are in effect toothless and unenforceable.

We cannot help feeling that, in securing this ruling, the Church's lawyers may have landed their paymasters with more than was initially intended.

Ministers, by and large, work very hard to serve the communities to which they are appointed, and the hierarchies of the Church of England, by and large, do their very best to provide good leadership. But all ministers, bishops included, are human and can make mistakes. We deeply regret that there are no simple and just procedures within the law of our nation to support and defend the leaders and ministers of its Established Church.

Pete Hobson
Chair, Church of England Clergy Advocates Unite
Unite House
128 Theobald's Road
London WC1X 8TN

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