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General Synod digest: revisions seek to beef up safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure

04 December 2020
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The Dean of the Arches and Auditor, the Rt Worshipful Morag Ellis QC, introduces the debate on first consideration of the Draft Safeguarding (Code of Practice) Measure

The Dean of the Arches and Auditor, the Rt Worshipful Morag Ellis QC, introduces the debate on first consideration of the Draft Safeguarding (Code of ...

AMENDMENTS to the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure 2016 are to be considered for revision by the whole General Synod in February, after the Synod voted through the first consideration on Tuesday evening.

The debate on first consideration of the Draft Safeguarding (Code of Practice) Measure was introduced by the Dean of the Arches and Auditor, the Rt Worshipful Morag Ellis QC, who chairs the steering committee. This “limited but highly significant” provision, she said, was an important part of the Church’s response to the IICSA report in 2019 relating to the case of Peter Ball and the diocese of Chichester (News, 10 May 2019). The report had recommended that the term “due regard” be replaced, because it was unclear. The issue was that guidance could mean different things in different contexts, Ms Ellis said.

“Lack of clarity is unacceptable. It is also unnecessary because putting it right could be achieved by the proposed amendment to the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure 2016.” The mechanism was simple, she said. The House of Bishops was to be placed under a statutory duty to produce a code of practice on safeguarding children and vulnerable adults.

Next, a new section 5A was to be inserted to include an expanded list of relevant persons who may be subject to requirements in the code. There would be a statutory duty to comply with a requirement proposed on one of those persons. This included clergy and officer-holders as well as diocesan bodies. Failure to comply would constitute misconduct under the CDM, she said. The duty to have regard was to be replaced in this Measure, and in parallel clauses in other Measures, such as cathedral and education.

She moved that the Draft Measure be considered for revision by the whole Synod.

Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) welcomed the proposal and said that the clergy wanted and expected to be held to the highest standard. He was, however, left with the question: What about the laity? Lay people should also be held to account and should face sanctions, he said, which should be included in legislation rather than a code of practice. In relation to churchwardens, for example, there were disciplinary measures set in legislation in some contexts, but these did not apply to the failure to carry out duties.

He suggested that the bishop should have the power to disqualify churchwardens who did not adhere to safeguarding duties. Clause 5AN referred to people who worked on any basis: he asked whether this included volunteers, and what sanctions would be in place. This should not be left to the incumbent, he said, particularly given the current state of the CDM. People who were employed by private trusts or third parties in a C of E context should also be brought under the same sanctions regarding safeguarding. He was keen to block out those and further loopholes.

The Archdeacon of Leeds, the Ven. Paul Ayers (Leeds), agreed with Canon Butler. He expressed concern that this was “hasty” legislation, and that there was no opportunity for scrutiny. He was also keen to understand what the sanctions for non-compliance would be. Mandatory reporting was difficult to pin down, and answers were needed before the measure was moved.

Carl Fender (Lincoln) suggested that the Synod could do better with the drafting. He was concerned that “soft law” was being used to regulate standards. “There is an illusiveness in the current draft in the use of the word ‘requirement’ which does not go far enough to distinguish between mandatory and discretionary obligations,” he said. The code should include: principles, best practice, clearly defined obligations or duties, and any additional guidance. The language did not stand up to the demands of the IICSA report.

Martin Sewell (Rochester) agreed that the system must be clear from the outset, as adding and losing focus was unhelpful. He pointed to research conducted by the Sheldon Hub, which reported that 40 per cent of clergy who had been through the CDM process had considered taking their own lives (News, 16 July). “To get this wrong is not only sloppiness in law: it is cruel.”

Michael Stallybrass (York) agreed with Canon Butler’s concerns regarding the treatment and sanctioning of the clergy and laity.

The Revd Paul Benfield (Blackburn) supported the Draft Measure, but expressed concern that the code of practice written by the House of Bishops was not subject to approval or scrutiny by the Synod. He considered this to be constitutionally wrong.

The Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller (London), underscored what Archdeacon Ayres had said: a strong commitment was needed to ensuring that the revision stage was “extraordinarily thoroughly” done.

Dr Michael Todd (Truro) questioned the omission of religious communities from the list of relevant persons. The Church should be seen to be overturning every stone, he said. He called on the committee to fill in the gaps and provide a simple way to add further groups to the list in future without having to revise the whole Measure.

April Alexander (Southwark) said that, besides being held accountable, lay people should also be protected from malicious accusations. There was also no definition of what was meant by vulnerable adults: her experience was that all adults could be vulnerable at certain times. The worst example was the murder of Peter Farquhar, a churchwarden in Oxford, who, she said, had not been seen as being vulnerable, but had, in fact, been deeply vulnerable (News, 23 October).

The Revd Simon Talbott (Ely), who is the convener of Clergy Advocates under a branch of the union Unite, agreed that the legislation regarding the laity had to be handled very carefully.

Peter Bruinvels (Guildford), who is the chairman of NHS complaints and has led several clergy-discipline tribunals, was concerned about who was going to police the implementation of the Measure. Would the core group have the right people serving on it, he asked; how often would its members be reviewed, and would they automatically be reappointed? There should be legal guidance and representation, he said, and he urged training and cross-examination.

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, said that he had been involved in the 2016 Measure, when he was then lead bishop for safeguarding, and had, at the time, lost debates concerning the robustness of the phrase “due regard”, which he was delighted to see picked up by IICSA. The House of Bishops must issue the code of practice, he said, because they had to continue to take a lead on safeguarding. Wide consultation was taken, he assured the Synod. He urged the Synod to vote it through to the revision stage.

Brian Wilson (Southwark) asked that proprietary chapels be included in the list.

The Revd Stephen Corbett (Blackburn) was confused that the code of conduct was going to be based on a CDM that the Synod had agreed in principle to replace. “Let’s get it in the right order so that we have something that can stand the test of time.”

The Revd Damian Feeney (Lichfield) was heartened that there would be accountability during the revision stage. “The position of ordinands with regard to discipline is anomalous, to say the least. They should be properly covered by due process,” he said.

The Bishop at Lambeth, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, speaking in his capacity as chairman of the group revising the CDM, was supportive of the Measure, and understood that other matters would be picked up by the revision stage. He hoped to bring a paper to the Synod in February to replace the CDM with something else altogether. This would take some time; so this Draft Measure was important: it showed commitment, and would take forward some of the matters discussed in the debate, including the issue of lay officers and ordinands.

Responding to the debate, Ms Ellis was grateful for the support and heartened that none of the speakers had taken issue with the need for the Church to grapple with safeguarding, strengthening, and putting in place proper measures. The matters raised could be taken forward through the work of the committee and the House of Bishops’ code of practice work-stream, she said. The Measure was connected to the work of the CDM, but not dependent on it.

“It is urgent that the Church responds, and is seen to respond, to the issues raised by IICSA. . . We need to get on with it, but wisely and carefully.” The complex issue of the laity — both accountability and protection — would be carefully considered and was already being considered by the National Safeguarding Steering Group, she said. “A great deal more work will have been done to the Draft Measure before it is returned.” She encouraged the Synod to raise any further points in the mean time.

The motion was carried and the Measure now goes to the revision committee.


Click here for more reports from the November General Synod, held via Zoom last week

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