No leave for priest’s appeal against tribunal

22 May 2020

It would not succeed, Court of Arches finds, refusing anonymity

Creative Commons

The High Street in Ore, Sussex

The High Street in Ore, Sussex

THE Court of Arches of Canterbury refused the application of the Revd Paul Parks for leave to appeal against a decision of the Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal which removed him from office and prohibited him from exercising any clerical functions for a period of two years. The Court of Arches also refused Mr Parks’s application for anonymity.

The complaint of misconduct against Mr Parks was made in August 2018 by the Archdeacon of Hastings, the Ven. Dr Edward Dowler, and was referred to the tribunal in December 2018 in the following terms: “The conduct of the respondent, the Reverend Paul Parks, Rector of Ore (St Helen with St Barnabas), was unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders within section 8(1)(d) of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 in that on diverse occasions he had assaulted and/or threatened to harm his wife, Lois Parks, including putting her in a headlock, threatening her with a knife or letter opener, and detaining her against her will.”

Mr Parks admitted the alleged misconduct and also “lesser” allegations of verbal abuse and “controlling behaviour” over the course of the marriage. Consequently, no witnesses were required to give evidence as to those facts.

Mr Parks, now aged 60, had joined the army and served in the Parachute Regiment from August 1975 to August 1981, and he had served in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles. After leaving the army in 1981, he served in the Reserves until 1986, when he enlisted with the SAS (TA), with whom he served until 1989.

He subsequently felt called to the ordained ministry and, after training, was ordained deacon in 1998 and priest the following year. He met his second wife, Lois, in 2002 and they married in 2003. On 9 May 2017 and on subsequent days, she disclosed to church members that she had been mentally and emotionally abused by Mr Parks throughout their married life. She repeated those allegations to the Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Revd Richard Jackson, and his wife, Deborah.

The same day, she reported to the police that she had been a victim of domestic violence for 14 years, and that she believed Mr Parks had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mental-health issues and was suicidal. Mr Parks was arrested, interviewed under caution, and bailed with a condition that he could not return to the family home. He was collected by the Archdeacon of Hastings, who took him to a health-and-well-being retreat centre. He was subsequently admitted voluntarily as an inpatient to a psychiatric unit for acute care from 17 May to 19 June 2017.

On 21 May 2017, his wife withdrew her support for any prosecution of her husband, stating that, although everything she had told the police had happened, she was never physically injured, her husband was now getting psychiatric treatment, and the psychiatrists did not think that he should be prosecuted. She also said that the diocese was very supportive of rehabilitation and that, if her husband was punished, they would lose their home and income. The Crown Prosecution Service decided to take no further action.

Although misconduct was admitted and found proved, Mr Parks submitted to the tribunal that his culpability for his misconduct was significantly diminished as a result of his psychiatric condition. He and his wife gave evidence in support of his defence, and he also called expert witnesses, including a consultant psychiatrist, a consultant clinical psychologist, and three clinicians who supported his contention that he suffered from PTSD and that his misconduct was directly related to it so that it significantly reduced his culpability.

The tribunal, which was constituted by a panel of five members, concluded that Mr Parks did suffer from PTSD in the course of his marriage, but did not accept that PTSD entirely explained or excused his behaviour. On a balance of probabilities, the tribunal’s view was that the evidence showed a clear pattern of domestic abuse involving controlling and coercive behaviour for which Mr Parks was fully culpable and aware, but that he took “no meaningful steps” to address it, “thereby putting his wife at risk of harm and betraying the trust of his wife, the church, and the wider community”.

In considering the appropriate penalty, the tribunal took into account the admissions made by Mr Parks, his expressions of remorse, and the detailed evidence about the progress he had made in the course of extensive therapy, which was expected to continue. Clinicians and his therapist gave evidence that he no longer posed a risk either to his wife (who continued to support him) or to the wider public, and that he was fit to return to work on a phased return, subject to an occupational-health assessment and ongoing supervision and monitoring. Mr Parks himself told the tribunal of his wish to return to ministry as soon as possible.

The tribunal expressed the view that Mr Parks’s “misconduct was extremely serious and demanded a significant penalty” and that “behaviour of this type causes enormous reputational damage to the church and to the trust that is placed in the clergy by the wider society.”

It was noted that there had been no reported repetition of abusive behaviour over the course of the past two years, but the tribunal observed that, during that period, Mr Parks had had a great deal of support and intervention on a weekly basis.

The tribunal was not satisfied that he had “at this stage fully addressed all the issues that led to the misconduct” and was of the view that “he should not be able to return to ministry — particularly parish ministry — at this time,” and that it might be that, “given the seriousness and the nature of this misconduct, it will never be appropriate for [him] to exercise parish ministry again.”

The tribunal considered, however, that there was a “realistic prospect of rehabilitation such that he could at a later date exercise ministerial functions in some other capacity”.

It was directed that he be removed from office and prohibited from exercising the functions of a member of Church of England clergy and that his name be entered on the Archbishops’ list in accordance with Section 38 of the Measure.

The tribunal also refused to make an anonymity order. It was a “fundamental principle that justice should be administered openly and held to public scrutiny”, and the tribunal “felt very strongly that the wider community (whether churched or unchurched) who had been let down badly by [Mr Parks] had a right to know why he had been suspended and removed from office”.

The Court of Arches had “no hesitation” in refusing Mr Parks leave to appeal against the tribunal’s ruling, since an appeal “had no real prospect of success”. Mr Parks also applied for anonymity, stating that he had been receiving treatment for his PTSD, and that publicity was likely to set back the course of his recovery and to have an adverse impact on his two young children, who were still in primary school. He also relied on his right to respect for his private and family life under Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention.

The critical issue was that of balancing Mr Parks’s Article 8 rights with those of the wider community, whether expressed as the need for the public to know or as the right of the press to report those matters. In addition to Article 8, Rule 49 of the Clergy Discipline Measure provided that the tribunal “may order that the name and other identifying details of any person involved or referred to in the proceedings must not be published or otherwise made public, if satisfied that such an order is desirable to protect” that person’s private life, the interests of any child, or “is otherwise in the interests of the administration of justice”.

Mr Parks had not been convicted of a criminal offence by a criminal court. He had been before a disciplinary tribunal where hearings were usually held in private, but Rule 40 of the Measure provided that the “determination shall be pronounced in public together with its reasons therefor.”

The reasons why determinations were pronounced in public and published, the Court of Arches said, was because of the importance of tribunal cases in relation to professional misconduct. They demonstrated that professions did have systems in place to uphold and enforce high standards, and that when those standards were not met, people would be held to account. They must also be able to explain why the most severe penalties were meted out.

The Court of Arches said that if all that took place behind closed doors, as in fact it usually did under the Measure, then, unless those findings could be made public in some detail, the public would not be able to see that those principles were being upheld and enforced and that penalties flowed when they were not. That required a level of publicity for the findings, particularly as the proceedings did take place in private.

In refusing anonymity, the tribunal had taken into account the fact that the names of the children were not at any stage mentioned or featured in the judgment, and that in the light of the subject-matter the withholding of Mrs Parks’s name “would be frankly nonsensical”.

The words “may order” in Rule 49 showed that the power to make an anonymity order was discretionary, and the judgment made by those who listened to the evidence was “critical”. An appellate court such as the Court of Arches would interfere with that discretionary decision of the tribunal only rarely, if it could be shown that the decision was “plainly wrong”. The test that the tribunal had applied was clearly what the overall interests of justice required, and the Court of Arches refused to interfere.

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