Today at the Central Criminal Court the former Bishop of Lewes and Bishop of Gloucester, Peter Ball, was sentenced to 32 months for misconduct in public office and 15 months for indecent assaults, to run concurrently. Ball, who is 83, had pleaded guilty to charges of misconduct in public office between 1977 and 1992, indecent assault on a boy aged 12 or 13 in 1978 and indecent assault on a man aged 19 or 20 between 1980 and 1982. You can read Wilkie J’s sentencing remarks here.
As we noted last week, the Church of England has announced that the Archbishop of Canterbury has commissioned an independent review of the way the Church of England responded to the case and had confirmed that its report of the review will include a detailed account of how the case was handled within the Church and will be published.
After sentence was announced the Church issued a statement in which it said that there were no excuses whatsoever for what Peter Ball had done over decades:
“We apologise unreservedly to those survivors of Peter Ball’s abuse and pay tribute to their bravery in coming forward and also the long wait for justice that they have endured. We note that there are those whose cases remain on file for whom today will be a difficult day, not least in the light of the courage and persistence that they have demonstrated in pressing for the truth to be revealed. We also remember Neil Todd, whose bravery in 1992 enabled others to come forward but who took his own life before Peter Ball’s conviction or sentencing.”
Does this prosecution of an ex-bishop for misconduct in public office set a precedent in treating a clerical position as a ‘public office’, or have there been other prosecutions of clergy for misconduct in a public office? To be clear, I condemn the actions for which Ball has been convicted.
I don’t know for certain; and I cannot begin guess whether or not there have been other prosecutions of clergy for misconduct in a public office. Unless they get as far as the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal, most criminal prosecutions aren’t reported in the same way that civil cases are – so we simply have no way of knowing the answer.
The “public office” issue is relevant: newspaper reports say that before the trial Ball argued that his role as a bishop was not a public office, but ultimately pleaded guilty to “misconduct in public office”. So this argument was considered and rejected; he was deemed to be holding a public office. I don’t know for sure, but the raising and dismissal of this point suggest that there aren’t precedents of prosecutions of clergy for misconduct in a public office.
Article is “Bishop escaped abuse charges after MPs and a royal backed him, court told “, The Guardian 7 October 2015
Indeed: we’re currently writing a comment piece on the “public office” point for the Ecclesiastical Law Journal.