We linked on 7 August to a critique of the April 2021 amendments to the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 Code of Practice written by Gavin Drake.
More recently, Rosie Dawson wrote about this for The Living Church: Church of England Code Silences Victims, Critics Say (some additional links added).
…”These were significant amendments ,” retired barrister and Synod member David Lamming told TLC. “It’s unfortunate that they were overlooked at Synod because they seem to me to go beyond what the measure authorises, which is that the guidance applies only to those who exercise functions within the CDM process.”
The timing of the amendments has led several commentators to conclude that they were drafted in direct response to concerns about the publicity surrounding a CDM complaint brought against the dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Rev. Martyn Percy, in November last year. In May 2021 the President of Tribunals, Dame Sarah Asplin, effectively dismissed the case, ruling that it would be disproportionate to refer the matter to a tribunal.
The complaint against the dean came within the context of a long-running, very public and very acrimonious dispute between him and the college and cathedral chapter. Supporters on both sides have engaged in briefing a voracious media. A dedicated website keeps Dean Percy’s supporters abreast of every twist and turn in the saga.
“It is rarely a good idea to legislate from the circumstances of a single case as, appears to have been done here,” says Martin Sewell, a retired Child Protection lawyer and General Synod Candidate. While he believes the motivation behind the changes to the code of practice may have been well-intentioned, he says the effects run contrary to free speech and natural justice. “Much speculative gossip about the circumstances ensued about the nature of the case against Dean Percy. I don’t think it was wrong to have refuted such gossip in careful terms.”
The Church of England would not be drawn on the Percy affair in relation to the changes to the Code of Practice, but said that there had been number of recent cases in which details of complaints under the Clergy Discipline Measure had been made public, causing significant distress and upset for those concerned.
One priest who has fallen afoul of the new rules is the Rev. Robert Thompson, vicar of St. Mary and St James in West Hampstead, London, who announced on Twitter in April that he was subject to a CDM for online bullying. In the adjudication he later received, he was reprimanded for “weaponizing” social media and forbidden from disclosing any further details of the case, including the outcome.
“Robert got the result of his CDM and was told there was no case to answer,” says his friend and fellow priest, the Rev. Andrew Foreshew-Cain, “but he was also told that he couldn’t share that news with anyone. And the instruction was couched in terms of a threat. It should really be up to Robert what he wants to share. He didn’t tweet anything that identified the complainant. The whole thing just smacks of an attempt to silence people within a system which everyone admits is broken.”
In a statement the Church of England said the update to the code was “simply to underline the expectation of confidentiality in clergy discipline cases, while they are ongoing. It said the Clergy Discipline Commission would respond to Drake’s concerns in due course…