Clergy Discipline Measure 2003: Ecclesiastical Law Society working party interim report

The Ecclesiastical Law Society has published the interim report of its working party reviewing the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003. There is an executive summary here. The working party, under the chairmanship of HH Peter Collier QC, acknowledges the widespread recognition that the CDM is not working well and is in need of replacement. It believes that there is a need for an early assessment of the complaint – in short, a sifting process – to identify:

  • cases that are frivolous, vexatious or unsubstantial and their speedy dismissal;
  • cases that are capable of local resolution with attempts being made to resolve them;
  • cases of misconduct of a less serious nature that will be dealt with by the bishop choosing to apply lower level penalties and/or provide assistance where needed; and
  • cases of serious misconduct that require being investigated on behalf of the Church and adjudicated on by an independent tribunal.

The working party recommends that cases which go before the tribunal should be managed in ways now common in the criminal and civil justice systems so that they proceed quickly to a focused final hearing.

The Interim Report emphasises that there is further work to be done in the coming months. That further work will be the subject of detailed consultation in due course, in the expectation that a comprehensive Final Report will then follow. Submissions will be invited in due course. Outstanding matters include:

  • Ensuring that all clergy fall within the jurisdiction, including “peculiar” cases – ie clergy who fall outside the jurisdiction of a diocesan bishop.
  • Complaints against bishops.
  • Complaints against deacons – which the working party assumes will be dealt with in the same manner as those against priests. as under the current CDM.
  • Should there be limitation periods, if so of what length and with what exceptions?
  • Who would deal with applications to proceed out of time?
  • What to do about suspension pending outcome, especially in serious misconduct cases.
  • Questions of “conflict of interest” – or archbishops/bishops recusing themselves
  • Whether the disciplinary process needs to wait for the outcome of any criminal investigation and/or prosecution.
  • The provision of Legal Aid for accused clerics.
  • Crucially, how any new system should relate to the Church’s safeguarding regime.
  • How a new system might also relate to risk assessments in cases where such are required.
  • How better to work with prohibited clergy in helping them return to ministry (or into some new walk of life)
  • How matters of doctrine ritual and ceremonial will be dealt with.
  • The Sheldon Hub is very concerned that the grant and/or withdrawal of “Permission to Officiate” in relation to retired or otherwise-unlicensed clergy is entirely at the bishop’s discretion with no due process for clerics and no apparent accountability for the bishop.

It should be noted that the views expressed in the Interim Report are those of the Working Party and are not necessarily those of the ELS or its Trustees.

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