Clergy Discipline

A briefing paper for church members of the Sea of Faith network, prepared by Ian Stubbs, February 2000.


The Church of England is in the process of revising its procedures on professional misconduct and ecclesiastical discipline. This was the recommendation in a report by the Legal Aid Commission, ‘The Ecclesiastical Legal Aid System’ (GS 1028).

Under the present disciplinary arrangements (Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963) cases to do with morality, unbecoming conduct and neglect of duty are dealt with in the first instance by the Consistory Court (only court at diocesan level) A few cases only since 1963 have reached trial in this court. In respect of cases to do with doctrine, ritual and ceremonial a new court was established The Court of Ecclesiastical Cases Reserved covering the whole CofE. This requires a court with two high court judges and three diocesan bishops with appeal to three Lords of Appeal and two bishops in the House of Lords. It has not been used. There are 44 unofficial disciplinary systems that are ad hoc and liable to modification without notice or consultation. Anthony Freeman was subject to one such in the Diocese of Chichester.

The new proposals can be thought of as a move towards more modern industrial tribunals. The proposal is that the new disciplinary courts will be known as the Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal. They are intended to be transparent, simpler, more easily understood and fairer. New procedures following a complaint would allow for a number of possible actions by the bishop including no action. If necessary the case could go to the Tribunal.

Steps In Legislation

Recommendations were brought to the General Synod in November 1996 in a Report, Under Authority. These were approved with the exception of the recommendation 11.13(d) regarding "teaching, preaching, publishing or professing doctrine or belief incompatible with that of the Church of England as expressed within its formularies". An amendment was passed to leave these matters to the present arrangements. On a show of hands the voting was 185:168 and following a division into houses, by 222:208.

An Implementation Group was set up chaired by Alan Hawker, Archdeacon of Swindon.

The Group presented a draft Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction (Discipline) measure (GS 1347) and a draft Amending Canon No 24 (GS 1348) to General Synod in July, 1999. It also expressed the view that the present (1963) measures for dealing with incompatible doctrine or belief are not satisfactory and should be brought into line with the new proposed arrangements. The House of Bishops agreed with this but (GSMisc 570) advised that doctrine and belief should be left out of the present legislative process and that their House would appoint a group to examine how offences of a doctrinal nature could be dealt with under the new arrangements. The bishops would bring a report in due course but in the meantime the passage of the present legislation on other matters of clergy professional and personal conduct would not be hindered.

A draft Amending Canon No 24 (GS 1347Y) to the main Measure (GS 1347A) and to the Amending Canon (GS 1338A) will be brought to the General Synod during the February 2000 sessions. This proposes a new title ‘The Clergy Discipline Measure.

Bishops’ Group

This is chaired by Mark Santer, Bishop of Birmingham and has had one meeting. It will shortly advertise for comment and submission inviting a range of contributions, not only from General Synod members.

Some Assumptions of ‘under Authority’


There is an opportunity to influence the Bishops’ Working Group and thus the Church of England’s thinking and policy on this issue.

There are two possible options:

  1. to oppose the inclusion of belief and doctrine as valid matters for clergy discipline
  2. to accept that matters of belief and doctrine should be matters for clergy discipline and suggest guidelines for establishing appropriate boundaries of permissibility.
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