Bishop’s response to Unite over Sharpe case

by
22 May 2015

iStock

From the Bishop of Manchester

Sir, - The Revd Peter Hobson's letter (15 May) about the decision of the Court of Appeal rejecting the claim by the Revd Mark Sharpe that, as the incumbent of a benefice, he was an employee significantly misrepresents that decision, not least in what he writes about the ability of Church of England clergy to obtain redress against injustice.

Parochial clergy have significant rights, including access to independent tribunals and courts.

Clergy with the freehold or on Common Tenure can be removed from office only on grounds of misconduct, incapacity, or (in the former case) pastoral breakdown, as the result of a decision of an independent church tribunal or court. Clergy on Common Tenure can, additionally, be removed on grounds of capability, but if that happens they have the right to challenge their removal in an employment tribunal - which has the same range of remedies open to it as in a case of the unfair dismissal of an employee.

Mr Sharpe made no claim of discrimination, but, as a general point, clergy in employment, those who hold Crown benefices, and stipendiary assistant curates are all protected by the Equality Act. For office-holders where the Act does not apply, the Church is publicly committed to handling its appointment processes as though it did.

Mr Hobson also misunderstands the effect of the Court of Appeal's decision in two other ways. Since the retirement age for clergy is statutory, he is wrong to imply that, had it found Mr Sharpe to be an employee, parochial clergy could not be forced to retire at 70. In any case, clergy are not the only individuals who are subject to a fixed retirement age: members of the judiciary, the armed services, and the police are also required to retire at a specified age.

Mr Hobson's suggestion that the decision in the Sharpe case shows that the Canons and oath of canonical obedience are "toothless and unenforceable" takes out of context a point that was made in the Employment Tribunal judgment. The judge was commenting on the inability of a bishop to control the day-to-day activities of a parish priest, provided that the priest stays within the confines of the doctrines of the Church and obeys the limited range of lawful instructions that can be given under the Canons. Nothing in the judgment of the Court suggests that the canons, or the duty of canonical obedience, are unenforceable.

The majority of parochial clergy themselves said clearly, in the consultation before the Terms of Service legislation, that they did not wish to be employees. This decision will be very welcome to them.


DAVID MANCHESTER
Chair, Remuneration and Conditions of Service Committee
Bishopscourt
Manchester M7 4LE

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear alongside your letter.

Latest Cartoon

The Church Times Podcast

Interviews and news analysis from the Church Times team. Listen to this week’s episode online

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read five articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)