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Letters to the Editor

23 August 2019

Indefinite sentences and detention, changes to the registration of church marriages, and the Devamanikkam apology and past-cases review


Indefinite sentences and detention

From the Revd David K. Beedon

Sir, — Thank you for the excellent piece from the Norwich Diocesan Criminal Justice Forum on the plight of people serving Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences (Comment, 16 August). It is a topic close to my heart, as I am just completing a six-year programme of research into pastoral care for IPP people in custody.

Sadly, self-harm and suicide rates are generally higher in the prison population than outside custody, and those serving an IPP sentence are even more at risk. The indeterminacy of the sentence and repeated Parole Board “knock-backs” have trapped many in existential despair — as noted by numerous reports on the sentence’s effects on mental health. David Blunkett, who invented the IPP sentence, has acknowledged that it was ill-conceived. It has been called Kafkaesque in its holding of thousands of people, counter to natural justice, not for crimes that they have committed, but for those that they might commit.

One minor correction to the Norwich piece’s otherwise apposite contribution: twice the writers refer to IPP sentence-servers’ being released only when they “no longer pose a risk”. Strictly speaking, once the minimum tariff is served, an IPP person in custody can be released only when his or her risk is deemed to be “manageable in the community”.

There will always be a risk to releasing anyone from prison. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system is so slavishly risk-averse in this regard that the personal risk (of self-harm, suicide, or mental ill-health) to the 2400 IPP people in custody is ignored. That in itself is a crime.

Address supplied

From Suzanne Fletcher

Sir, — Your article on prisoners held under IPP rules rightly highlights many injustices. It is not only unjust, but the impact of a prisoner’s being held with no release date can be catastrophic for that individual.

It is well known, and documented, among campaigners against indefinite detention for immigration purposes that there is a severe impact on those with no release date, and they count the days of detention “up not down”. Our bishops in the House of Lords have rightly supported legislation to end indefinite detention. I hope that they will continue to do so whenever the current Immigration Bill reaches Parliament again.

There is another flaw in the system, however. Those migrants who have been imprisoned for a criminal act and are then going to be deported to their country of origin after the end of the sentence are detained even longer. The process of the Home Office’s applying for the necessary paperwork and tickets does not appear to start till the release date. This means that someone who has served his or her sentence, and is not deemed as a risk to the public, is detained even longer, either in the same prison or in a prison-like detention centre. These people are unseen and have no voice, and their cause is generally unknown.

A clear injustice. Can campaigners please add this to their excellent list of recommendations for change?

3 Hoylake Way, Eaglescliffe
Stockton on Tees TS16 9EU

Changes to the registration of church marriages 

From the Revd Robert S. J. Charles

Sir, — I am saddened that the proposed changes mean that the clergy will, in effect, cease to be registrars of marriages (News, 16 August), a task that they have fulfilled for centuries before the State became involved. Church marriages are already in serious decline, and the clumsiness of these proposals could well accelerate further decline.

The proposal that the couple leave church with a sense that the marriage is incomplete until recorded by the registrar is a retrograde step that should be given further consideration. The Australian system has much to commend it, and would be a better alternative, whereby the couple leave the church with a certificate of marriage issued by the priest/celebrant, who then has the responsibility to forward all documentation to the registrar. Failure to do so within ten days results in a fine.

It would overcome the difficulties that many couples would face if they or their representatives have to present themselves at a register office within a week to complete the legal formalities, and this at a time when they might have left the area for a honeymoon, and their families and friends have returned home, many of them out of the area.

The proposals smack of rushed and ill-conceived planning. I hope that more thought will be given before change is implemented.

8 Old Bystock Drive
Devon EX8 5RB

From the Revd James Mercer

Sir, — I understand that under the proposed new plans for Church of England weddings, couples would not immediately be issued with a wedding certificate at the service, but would instead sign a pre-prepared wedding document, which the couple would then be required to convert into a certificate of marriage at a register office no later than seven days after the ceremony.

I confess to anxiety over this development. Having previously been drawn into the Kafka-esque nightmare of seeking approval to marry non-EU nationals against the background of the Home Office’s punitive “hostile environment”, in which the register office has no option but to be complicit, I would be extremely wary of devolving any further say over the validity of church-conducted weddings to any government agency.

While the proposal is ostensibly argued for on the grounds of administrative efficiency (I have no problem with submitting marriage returns online), a legal requirement for post-ceremony confirmation of the marriage by the register office risks further diminution of the Church’s discretion over who should and should not marry. It may also potentially lead to confusion over which agency authorised the marriage, the Church or the State.

The Rectory, St George’s Close
Langton Matravers
Swanage BH19 3HZ

Devamanikkam apology and past-cases review 

From the Revd Matthew Ineson

Sir, — I write regarding the letter from Sir Roger Singleton regarding the proposed review of the Devamanikkam case (Letters, 9 August). The letter was deeply hurtful.

On the Sunday programme recently, I gave some reasons why I cannot participate. The “independent reviews” proposed by the National Safeguarding Team (NST) look like a genuine investigation, but they are not. The proposed reviewer is not independent of the Church, and it cannot be acceptable that those being investigated (the NST among others) write the terms of reference of an investigation into themselves.

Sir Roger refers to a letter of apology. Although Lambeth Palace says that such a letter was sent in July 2017, I received nothing. Nor did Justin Welby apologise to me in person in November 2016, despite what he told Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). No apology is recorded in the minutes of that meeting, which was seven months before Trevor Devamanikkam was charged. Even the word “sorry” is too hard to say.

What the Church needs, before safeguarding and the care of victims even begin to improve, is a change of leadership, and the willingness to change itself.

Address supplied

From Canon Paul Dawson

Sir, — If the files of every living cleric and church officer are to be reviewed for allegations of abuse or neglect (News, 9 August), will the process have the courage and integrity to include those instances where clergy and their families have experienced life-threatening and/or life-changing injuries as a result of living in tied accommodation?

Such instances will, I hope, be very rare; but I know they exist, and if we are serious about caring for people who live with historic experiences, then at some stage we need to ask some difficult questions.

My concern is that such instances may not be recorded in personnel files in the first place, which suggests a weakness in relying only on recorded documentation.

The Vicarage, Cinder Hill
Whitegate, Northwich CW8 2BH

How they See it Differently in Norwich Cathedral 

From Canon Malcolm France

Sir, — There can be nothing sillier in the silly season than for a person who has been walking in Arctic regions for two weeks to offer an opinion of an event that he did not attend (Press, 16 August).

In the gospel tradition, the crowds who were drawn to “Seeing it Differently” at Norwich Cathedral really did see things differently. In addition to the helter skelter, people took the time to: Lie down and Look up, at the world’s largest collection of decorated roof bosses, each showing a Bible story; sit in the Bible Box and read; meditate on the labyrinth; try the Trust Trail; sit and listen to the choir practising for evensong; witness a service of holy communion; and share stories of faith with many of the 72 volunteers working in twos.

The surprise to us all was the many positive responses as people took the opportunity to see life differently. Many people, both young and old, with common sense and a strong moral compass, could see, often for the first time, that there is more to the Church of England than exclusive activity and an obsession with sex.

7 High View Park, Cromer
Norfolk NR27 0HQ

It all depends what you mean by ‘inclusive’

From Canon Hugh Wright

Sir, —Thank you so much for printing Canon Sam Wells’s lecture (Features, 9 August). I have long been troubled by the phrase “Inclusive Church” since I applied for a post where I was asked the question “What does Inclusive Church mean to you?” and I answered, saying that I thought it was a church where many different viewpoints on a whole range of subjects were included and embraced. It became instantly clear that this was not the answer that was being sought, which was, rather, a clear adherence to a certain view on sexuality. I didn’t get the job!

At present, in one of my churches, I am seeking to enable conversations between people of widely diverging views on homosexuality. I hope I am making progress, but that certainly won’t come if I, consciously or subconsciously, write off people who hold to one approach, and embrace those who hold to the opposite viewpoint.

I believe that focusing on whom we will share eternity with is so much more interesting and fruitful than just swapping one intolerance for another.

The Vicarage, Maples Drive
Ventnor, Isle of Wight PO38 1NR


Separated Anglicans 

From the Revd Peter Varney

Sir, — It is good to be reminded by the Revd Israel Selvanayagam (Comment, 16 August) that the United Churches in India have incorporated the former Anglican dioceses there. But there is another organisation in India, the Anglican Church of India (ACI), which does cause confusion.

The ACI has been invited to a number of events in Anglican dioceses in Asia, usually consecrations and enthronements, but many people are not aware that it is not a member of the Anglican Communion.

Would it be best for CSI and CNI to be fully integrated in our worldwide Anglican cycle of prayer, and those bodies that are not members of the Anglican Communion to be also listed, with a respectful note of their status?

280 The Pavilion
St Stephen’s Road
Norwich NR1 3SN

Theological trimming  

From Mr David Lewis

Sir, — For what it’s worth (Beard Theology, Features, 16 August), I’ve found that my beard covers a multiple of chins.

29 Vicarage Lawn
Devon EX32 7BN

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