A REQUEST to invalidate the election of a member of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) has been rejected by an appeal panel, which has concluded that members are not required to declare conflicts of interest.
The ruling of the panel, appointed by the House of Laity, was published on Monday, after a private hearing on 26 March. It concerns an appeal made by April Alexander, a Southwark diocesan representative on the General Synod. In August, she wrote to the Clerk to the Synod to contest the election of Jane Patterson, a Sheffield lay representative and one of six Synod members elected to the CNC in July (Appointments, 11 August). Both women were members of the CNC from 2012 to 2017.
Mrs Alexander argued that Miss Patterson had “conflicts of interest which she did not declare and of which the electors might well have been unaware”. She cited Miss Patterson’s failure to disclose her positions as a trustee of Christ Church Central, Sheffield (CCC), and Christ Church, Walkley, Sheffield (CCW). She also argued that, even had these been disclosed, they would have constituted an “irreconcilable conflict of interest”. She asked that the panel either declare her election invalid or make an order removing her from her membership of the CNC.
Both CCC and CCW are members of the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), which supports churches “both within and outside present Church of England structures”. They are church-plants from Christ Church, Fulwood, in Sheffield, a prominent conservative Evangelical church where Miss Patterson is a churchwarden. In her appeal letter, Mrs Alexander described them as congregations established “contrary to the wishes of the then Diocesan Bishop”. She also noted “the sponsoring of an ordination in Kenya to a Kenyan Diocese of the pastor for the second of these, without the knowledge of the Bishops in the Diocese, in 2013”.
The Revd Pete Jackson, the founding minister of Christ Church, Walkley, was deacon in the Anglican Church of Kenya by the Bishop of Kitui, the Rt Revd Josephat Mule, in 2013 (News, 22 February, 2013; News 1 March, 2013). In December, he was one of nine men ordained as the first deacons and priests of AMiE (News, 8 December).
In her letter, Mrs Alexander wrote: “[Ms Patterson`s] duty of loyalty to these non CofE congregations, to the associate and sponsoring national organisations to which she belongs and to this pastor could well impinge upon her decision making in the CNC. Trust law requires that a trustee (not to mention a chair of trustees) is obliged to act in the interests of the organisation in question at all times.”
She also argued that Miss Patterson “could attempt to influence the outcome [of the appointment of bishops] in ways that benefitted CCC and CCW which were and continue to be in direct conflict with the principles of governance of the Church of England”.
In her response, Miss Patterson argued that, even if she had a conflict of interest — which she denied — she was under no legal obligation to disclose it. Being a trustee of CCC and CCW did not give rise to any conflict of interest, she argued, “because the work of those churches is not illegal or contrary to canon law and in any event Miss Patterson was not herself subject to canon law”.
The panel, rejecting Mrs Alexander’s arguments, stated: “We are satisfied that the fact that Miss Patterson was a trustee of CCC and CCW had no bearing on her eligibility to stand for election to the CNC.”
It noted that “neither the Standing Orders nor the General Synod Members Code of Conduct required Miss Patterson to disclose any conflict of interest”; and that Charity Commission guidance on conflicts of interest, cited by Mrs Alexander, was not applicable, “given that neither the General Synod nor the CNC is a charity”.
It also rejected the suggestion that Miss Patterson’s membership of the CNC meant that she was “under a fiduciary duty to Her Majesty the Queen or the Prime Minister”.
On Monday, Miss Patterson said that she was “delighted that the appeal against my election to the Crown Nominations Commission was so clearly and completely dismissed by the tribunal after their careful consideration of the facts.” She was “immensely grateful to those who have stood shoulder to shoulder with me through the protracted process, and for my church family at Christ Church, Fulwood in Sheffield, those on General Synod, and in the wider church who have offered their prayerful support. I look forward to continuing to serve on the CNC, sharing with others the awesome task of discerning who to nominate as diocesan bishops to lead the Church in mission to the nation.”
Dr Scot Peterson, who represented Mrs Alexander at the hearing, said that the findings “clearly expose the urgent need for reforms in the processes for elections to the Crown Nominations Commission”.
He quoted from last year’s theological review of the CNC (News, 16 February), chaired by the Revd Professor Oliver O’Donovan, which stated: “We feel strongly that the basis of election of central members needs more credibility if the process is to commend itself widely to the church.”
Dr Peterson said: “We sincerely hope that when implementing the O’Donovan recommendations the General Synod will amend its Standing Orders to expressly require all candidates in elections to disclose membership of any organisation which could potentially give rise to a conflict of interest in relation to the work of the CNC.”
The panel’s membership was: Julie Dziegiel (Oxford), Martin Kingston QC (Gloucester), and Geoffrey Tattersall QC (Manchester).
In its ruling, the panel stated: “We have no doubt that it is theoretically possible for the General Synod to amend its Standing Orders and impose a more onerous Code of Conduct than that which currently exists, for example by requiring candidates to make express disclosure of all organisations of which they are directors or trustees, but in our judgment it is a matter for General Synod, and not this appeal panel, to determine whether such is appropriate.”
The ruling marks the second time that a review has rejected criticism of Miss Patterson’s position on the CNC. In his report on the nomination of the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, to the see of Sheffield, the independent reviewer, Sir Philip Mawer, concluded that “no criticism can be made of Ms Jane Patterson’s decision not to withdraw from the Sheffield CNC.”
Last year, Synod groupings rejected the suggestion that they were taking over the CNC (News, 4 August).