ADDITIONS to the Clergy Discipline Commission’s Code of Practice are an attempt to silence survivors of abuse, with “no justification in law or practice”, the head of a charity that campaigns on their behalf has warned.
Gavin Drake, the director of the Jill Saward Organisation, has drawn attention in a blog, published last week, to changes to the code made in April. These state that allegations of misconduct under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) are “private and confidential. This is to ensure that matters are dealt with fairly and that the process is not prejudiced. It extends to complainants, respondents and witnesses.”
They go on to stipulate that “all matters should be kept strictly private and confidential,” and that individuals should “refrain from making statements, posts, comments or similar on social media, websites, print media or other public fora which in any way reference the detail of the allegation, the individuals involved, or give an opinion as to the merits or otherwise of the alleged misconduct.”
They also contain a warning, described by Mr Drake as a “preposterous threat”: “Where an allegation has been referred for determination before a tribunal or court, the Chair may certify that an act or omission, in connection with the proceedings or an order, committed by any person is a contempt and refer the matter to the High Court.”
In his blog, Mr Drake states that the code has no legal force, and notes that the CDM itself and the rules “say nothing about confidentiality. Nor does the Measure provide for a referral to the High Court in relation to contempt.”
But, he argues, the additions seek to prevent victims, or those facing accusations, from “giving any information to anybody. If this paragraph had the force of law, it would silence the press from reporting that an allegation is ongoing. It would prevent a bishop explaining to a congregation why their minister has been suspended. It would stop a victim from writing about their experience. . . It is a blatant, flagrant, and egregious abuse of power. The Church of England should not be trying to silence victims.”
On Wednesday, a Church House spokesperson said: “The changes to the Code of Practice approved by General Synod earlier this year (News, 30 April) do not seek to ‘silence victims’, nor to prevent them from speaking out, but, on the contrary, are to protect survivors and others involved in the process and to ensure that proper process is not prejudiced by undue external influences.
“The changes, which were proposed by the Clergy Discipline Commission and approved by Synod following a debate in April, follow a number of recent cases in which details of complaints under the Clergy Discipline Measure which could potentially lead to identification of complainants were made public, causing significant distress and upset for those concerned.
“The Clergy Discipline Commission is aware of the concerns raised in this blog, and will examine the points raised and respond to the author in due course.”