THE working group looking at a replacement for the Clergy Discipline Measure has given a first sight of how a new complaints system might operate.
The outline of the proposed new scheme is given in a paper to be presented to the General Synod on Sunday 11 July.
The new scheme adopts the approach recommended by the two independent bodies who have been campaigning for reform of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 (CDM), which has been shown to be inadequate to many pastoral situations, involving long delays and proven miscarriages of justice.
The proposal is to separate complaints from allegations of misconduct, creating a twin-track system. The former would be settled in a non-judicial way; the latter, as now, with a more formal procedure but with the fairer treatment of those accused of wrongdoing.
In addition, the paper outlines the following features of the proposed “Clergy Conduct Measure”:
- the imposition of statutory duties to ensure professional support is in place for survivors, victims, and complainants, and effective pastoral support for respondents;
- the early investigation of all complaints and allegations of misconduct;
- independent oversight of disciplinary functions with an emphasis on professional training for those administering any aspect of the Measure;
- the proper resourcing of diocesan and national bodies to ensure the efficient determination of complaints and allegations of misconduct.
Key to the new system will be the definition of “complaint” and “alleged misconduct” — and who decides. The working group says that the definition is beyond its remit, and should be determined by an implementation group. The decision should rest with the diocesan bishop, it says, having received information about the complaint from a church official e.g. an archdeacon, a diocesan safeguarding adviser/officer, the national safeguarding team, a PCC, a churchwarden, or a person with proper interest. It should not be necessary for the bishop to meet the complainant.
The paper says: “The evidence received by the working group is that engaging with the person raising the complaint and in particular asking what outcome they seek makes for improved decision-making. The indication, however, will not be binding on the bishop who will be required to make a determination.”
If the complaint is judged to be a complaint only, no lawyers will be invited to get involved. “Low-level” complaints may be resolved simply with a conversation between the parties and the bishop, either together or separately.
Most complaints, though, would be dealt with by an “assessor”, regional figures, lay and clerical, appointed by the Clergy Discipline Commission (see below). A lead assessor would look at the case (and refer it back to the bishop if he or she thinks it has been wrongly categorised). A case assessor would then be allocated, who would meet the parties and gather evidence, though there would be no formal hearings. The assessor would then send a recommendation to the bishop, who would preside over the “outcome” (not called a “penalty”).
Possible outcomes would include dismissal of the complaint, no further action, mediation and conciliation, support and training, advice, and a formal written warning. Matters would be recorded in the blue file, the cleric’s formal record. There would be no appeal or review. The paper proposes: “The entire process would ordinarily be completed within 28 days.”
Where the bishop believes that a complaint indicates misconduct on the part of the cleric, there would be an immediate referral to a Designated Officer (DO). The DO would assess the case and send it back to the bishop if he or she disagrees. As now, cases involving safeguarding would be referred to the diocesan safeguarding adviser/officer and/or the police.
The cleric accused (the respondent) would be asked for a formal written answer to the accusation within a statutory time frame. Legal aid would be available. If the respondent admits the misconduct, the case would be referred back to the bishop for a penalty. Written representations would be sought from the parties before a penalty is imposed. The respondent need not consent to the penalty, and would be able to appeal if he or she believes it to be unfair.
If the respondent disputes the allegation, a professional investigation would be triggered, reporting, as now, to the President of Tribunals. Within two weeks, a three-person tribunal would be set up, comprising a legally qualified chair, a cleric, and a lay person. They could adjudicate on the investigator’s evidence, or take oral evidence in the more complicated cases.
The time limit for the whole misconduct track would be 30 weeks, except for highly complicated cases. If the misconduct is proved, penalties include deposition from holy orders, prohibition for life or for a limited time, removal from office and/or revocation of licence, a specific injunction, or a formal rebuke.
The respondent would be able to appeal to the Dean of the Arches, who would sit on a panel with one other judge and a bishop. The DO could also appeal if he or she believed the penalty fixed by the tribunal to be too lenient.
THE whole system would be overseen by a reformed Clergy Discipline Commission, the membership of which would be drawn from a wider pool of clerical and lay expertise. The commission would provide training for all involved in the process, and the numbers involved in the tribunals would be increased to cut out the delays which plague the present system.
The paper also indicates further areas that the working party believes need to be addressed, and which are outlined further in a separate paper by the chairman of the working group, the Bishop at Lambeth, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton.
These include wider issues of the development, support, and accountability of clergy, as well as a review of the Church’s safeguarding protocols. There is also the matter of whether or how to discipline lay people, especially as they take greater responsibility in the C of E.
The July Synod is invited to take note of the paper. The plan then is to formulate a new measure covering the broad outlines of the new system, leaving the details to be presented in ancillary rules and a code of practice, which could be more easily altered. The draft legislation would be presented to the Synod in February next year, with a first consideration of the completed measure by the Synod one year from now.