Diocesan Registrars and conflict of interest

Christopher Peak, a solicitor and Registrar to the Diocese of Gloucester between January 1985 and November 2012, has agreed with the Solicitors Regulation Authority to remove himself from the roll of solicitors.

A Diocesan Registrar is an ecclesiastical office holder appointed by the bishop of the diocese (an appointment now made under section 30 of the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction and Care of Churches Measure 2018). The services to be provided by a registrar are described in Schedule 2 of The Legal Officers (Annual Fees) Order, and they are wide-ranging: the registrar is required to give legal advice to bishops, archdeacons, rural deans, chairs of synods and committees, clergy, churchwardens and PCC secretaries, as well as any “bona fide enquirer concerning the law of marriage, baptism, confirmation and burial of the dead.” Registrars are paid an annual fee (set out in Schedule 1 of the Order), partly paid by the Diocesan Board of Finance and partly by the Church Commissioners on behalf of the bishop of the diocese.

In December 1992, Mr Peak acted for Peter Ball, then Bishop of Gloucester, in a personal capacity after Mr Ball had been arrested and charged with allegations of sexual abuse following receipt of information from a complainant who had been a member of his congregation. Mr Peak accepted, and the SRA agreed, that in acting for Mr Ball in a personal capacity while Diocesan Registrar, he had therefore acted where there was a conflict or a significant risk of a conflict between the interests of those two clients and so had breached Rules 1(a), 1(c) and 1(d) of the Solicitors’ Practice Rules 1990 and Principle 11.01 of the Law Society’s Guide to the Professional Conduct of Solicitors (fifth edition). In doing so, he had wilfully or recklessly disregarded the risk of harm and his regulatory obligations when agreeing to act in a conflict (or alternatively failing to properly consider the risk of a conflict arising).

As demonstrated by the comments of Rodgers Ch in Re Christ Church Spitalfields [2017] ECC Lon 1 [at 624], diocesan registry work is rife with potential conflicts of interest; the retainer invites the registrar to advise and assist any of the office holders of the Church of England – churchwardens, PCC secretaries, archdeacons, diocesan staff, bishops – and their interests are not always aligned. The case of Christopher Peak highlights the significant financial and professional penalties which can result if conflicts of interest are not recognised and avoided.

Frank Cranmer and David Pocklington 

[With thanks to Gavin Foster, Joint Registrar of the Diocese of Salisbury and the Diocese of Winchester.]

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer and David Pocklington, “Diocesan Registrars and conflict of interest” in Law & Religion UK, 11 January 2023, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2023/01/11/diocesan-registrars-and-conflict-of-interest/


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