11 July 2021
The Church of England should introduce greater transparency in its system for clergy discipline and safeguarding, the Jill Saward Organisation said today. It made its call in a Briefing to members of the General Synod, who will debate proposals for a new Clergy Conduct Measure this afternoon (Sunday 11 July).
The proposals, by the Lambeth Working Group, would see the new Measure replace the existing Clergy Discipline Measure, which was introduced in 2003. Measures are laws passed by General Synod and approved by Parliament. They have the status of Acts of Parliament.
The Jill Saward Organisation was set up in memory of the inspirational campaigner Jill Saward, who died in 2017. It will continue her work of speaking up for victims and survivors of sexual violence and abuse. It will also continue to campaign for changes in the law to improve the way victims and survivors of sexual violence are treated.
In the Briefing to General Synod members, the Jill Saward Organisation criticises the secrecy surrounding disciplinary tribunals under the current Clergy Discipline Measure, and contrasts this to the open way other professions hold disciplinary tribunals, including those for the military, teachers, doctors, barristers, and health care professionals.
The Briefing also criticises current statutory guidance by the Clergy Discipline Commission, which states that “the public does not need to know that an allegation in any particular case has been presented – it merely needs to know that if one is made, it will be dealt with in accordance with the due process of law.”
The Jill Saward Organisation said that “this position conflicts with the fundamental legal principle of open justice, which exists throughout the judicial systems of the UK.”
In the current Clergy Discipline Measure, tribunals are held in secret, but their decisions should be handed down in public. In its Briefing, the Jill Saward Organisation said: “there is a fundamental problem with this: how can a determination be handed down in public if the public – or the press – do not know that a tribunal is taking place in the first place? A tribunal chair can order that the doors be open but those who may have a legitimate interest in hearing the determination – including members of a parish – will not be waiting outside to be let in.”
Proposals for a new Clergy Conduct Measure are contained in a report by the Lambeth Working Group, which has been tasked with finding a replacement for the Clergy Discipline Measure. Proposals include new explicit statutory duties on bishops to ensure professional support is in place for survivors, victims and complainants. In its Briefing, the Jill Saward Organisation argues that such a duty already exists, but it welcomes the more explicit expression of the duty; and calls for the new Measure to include sanctions against bishops that fail to fulfil their duty.
The Jill Saward Organisation also calls for a lesser role for bishops in the new Measure, saying: “the biggest problem with the role played by bishops in the current system is that they are all individuals. They come to the task with individual understandings of the nature of right and wrong. They have individual understandings of the nature of forgiveness and how that interacts with the role of justice. They have individual views about the primary focus of a bishop’s duty, and how to balance their discipline function with their duty to pastor the priests in their care. And, disturbingly, that have individual views of what their duties and responsibilities are under the existing Clergy Discipline Measure. And they have individual understandings of what the Clergy Discipline Measure actually says.
“That is the conclusion that the author of this briefing has reached after experiencing the working out of the Clergy Discipline Measure in a variety of ways.”
The Briefing on the Proposed Clergy Conduct Measure by the Jill Saward Organisation is available online at thejso.uk/briefing.