THE Lambeth Working Group seems to have lost its way and gone backwards. Last December, they had a distinction between serious complaints and less serious complaints (News, 11 December 2020). Now, they are talking about the difference between a complaint and misconduct (News, 26 June). I find that confusing, because everything starts with a complaint; the issue is the seriousness of what is being complained about.
I think that everyone who has thought about these issues recognises that many of the problems in the current system — particularly those often spoken about by Sheldon arise because, once a complaint is issued, whether serious or not, it has to go down the current one track, with all the anxiety for the cleric that it might result in loss of home and livelihood.
That was not the wish of those who wrote the report Under Authority in 1996, nor the wish of the General Synod at that time. They clearly wanted to provide two tracks: one for serious misconduct and one for less than serious misconduct. It remains a mystery why that never happened.
That has also been the focus in recent changes to the current system, which are trying to ensure that only serious misconduct is dealt with under the Clergy Discipline Measure. Some of the amendments to the Code of Practice approved by Synod in April were for exactly that reason (News, 30 April).
THE proposals developed by the Ecclesiastical Law Society working party wanted to separate the serious misconduct from everything else (Comment, 11 December 2020; News, 26 February). The “everything else” includes what might be described as grievances, but also misconduct that is less than serious.
“Misconduct” can cover a vast range of seriousness. Quite trivial matters, such as “inefficiency” or “inappropriate behaviour”, are both phrases used in the current Measure as being among the grounds for making a complaint. The process is exactly the same for very serious misconduct, which can include serious criminal offences.
Unless misconduct is to be defined as serious misconduct then we will not be ending up in a place any different from where we are now.
I APPRECIATE the tribute to our “incredibly detailed and thoughtful” report, but I don’t understand how we can be said to have assisted in shaping their proposals when they appear to have rejected the fundamental thrust of what we were saying.
I was disappointed that we never sat down with them to thrash through the differences between us. I do think that engagement with our group, composed of people with wide-ranging experience of actually dealing with these cases across their very wide spectrum, would have helped them to formulate better proposals.
The Rt Worshipful Peter Collier QC chaired the Ecclesiastical Law Society’s working group on the Clergy Discipline Measure. He is the Vicar-General of York.