Members of the clergy are required to adhere to a set of guidelines entitled “Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy”. Failure to do so may lead to an investigation and allegations of misconduct which justify disciplinary action including referral to a Disciplinary Tribunal or to the Vicar General’s Court if you are a Bishops, which can have devastating consequences for your career.
If you have been accused of misconduct as a member of the clergy, our lawyers are on hand to provide advice and representation.
Our solicitors are specialists in both criminal and professional discipline and can provide you with advice and assistance throughout all stages of proceedings, from the initial complaint through to the disciplinary tribunal hearing. To speak to a member of the Burton Copeland team, you can either call us on 0161 827 9500, or fill in our contact form and we will get back to you.
Get advice immediately!
Expert legal advice in relation to any investigations or allegations is paramount. Saying what you believe is the right thing can often have a detrimental effect. Everybody is entitled to seek advice, you would be unwise not to obtain it.
Clients Our team assists members of the clergy facing investigation, including deacons, priests and bishops in the Church of England, even if they are not in active ministry. In addition, we represent members of the clergy accused of committing criminal offences. We also advise members of the clergy in responding to informal complaints that have been sent to the area dean or archdeacon.
No matter what the circumstances of your case, we can assist you by:
- Advising you on the relevant legislation
- Preparing responses on your behalf
- Providing guidance on the acceptance of some of the Disciplinary Tribunal penalties
- Preparing for and providing representation at all Disciplinary Tribunal hearings
- Appealing to the Arches Court of Canterbury or the Chancery Court of York following Disciplinary Tribunal decisions
- Advising you in relation to more informal investigations
- Representing you at the police station
- Preparing you for and defending you in the criminal courts
- Advising on and preparing for Disclosure and Barring list representation
- Advice and representation in relation to an appeal
Frequently asked questions for members of the clergy facing investigation and disciplinary tribunals
Members of the clergy against whom allegations of misconduct may also have to face an investigation which can ultimately lead to a disciplinary tribunal hearing.
For many, having your honour and integrity questioned will be a new experience, making it all the more stressful. For others, who have been in this position before, knowing what to expect may not necessarily make this situation any easier. Our experienced team are experts in representing members of the clergy facing criminal and misconduct allegations have found the questions outlined below to be the most frequently asked during proceedings.
If you require more information on any of the questions and answers set out below, or we have not answered your question, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us either by calling 0161 827 9500 or by filling in our contact form.
What should I do when I have been notified of a complaint or allegations of misconduct?
Many members of the clergy make the mistake of contacting other members of the clergy following receipt of a notification of investigation. Speaking to anyone about the investigation could mean that anything you say at the initial stages is used against you further down the line in relation to the disciplinary proceedings and you may, therefore, inadvertently, prejudice your own case. In addition, you are not allowed to seek legal advice from the registrar within your own diocese due to the potential conflict of interest. Your first port of call should always be to contact a credible and reputable defence solicitor at Burton Copeland to review your case to ensure that you receive the best possible advice at the earliest possible opportunity.
How does the investigation process work?
This depends on the level of the complaint and whether or not a disciplinary tribunal is going to be held. Informal complaints can be handled relatively quickly whereas those that have been referred to disciplinary tribunals will inevitably take longer.
When an investigation begins, you will be informed about the complaint by a registrar who has considered that documentation. You can submit a response at this stage although the registrar is not permitted to provide any comments on this response to the Bishop. The matter will then be referred, by way of report from the Registrar, to the bishop by whom the complaint was received, within 28 days.
The bishop will then decide whether or not to dismiss the complaint and 28 days is allowed for this process. If the complaint is not dismissed, the bishop will have to decide which course of action to take and there are 5 options available at this stage as follows:
- To take no further action
- To impose a conditional deferment
- To decide that conciliation is appropriate
- To impose a penalty by consent in the event that the allegations are admitted (any of the penalties that the Disciplinary Tribunal can impose – see below)
- To decide that the matter requires to be formally investigated
If the bishop decides not to dismiss your case, you will be given 21 days to provide your response. If the bishop directs that the complaint is formally investigated, the matter will be handed over to the Designated Officer who will carry out the investigation.
How an investigation progresses will depend on the nature of the complaint, but may include:
- Interviewing you, the respondent to the complaint;
- Interviewing the complainant; and
- Gathering information from any other parties who may be relevant to the investigation;
Once these inquiries have been made by the Designated Officer, he/she will refer the case to the President of Tribunals to decide whether there is a case to answer at a Disciplinary Tribunal or by the Vicar-General’s Court. If it is decided that there is a case to answer, the matter will proceed to be heard by either the Disciplinary Tribunal or the Vicar’s General Court. The President of Tribunals can also reverse a decision to dismiss the complaint and if this happens, you will be afforded 21 days in which to provide this response.
If you are asked to provide a response to a complaint that has been made against you, please contact our team who will ensure that your case is put forward in the best possible light, without the risk of prejudice, which may be caused if you decide to respond yourself.
What sanctions can be imposed at the disciplinary tribunal?
Once the preliminary investigation has been carried out and you have been provided with the opportunity to provide your response, the matter may be referred to a disciplinary tribunal.
The disciplinary tribunal can, if the allegations are found proven:
- Conditional discharge
- Revocation of licence
- Removal from office
- Limited prohibition
- Prohibition for life
Our specialist team of solicitors can assist you at any stage of an investigation into alleged misconduct.
Am I able to continue working during an investigation?
In some cases, you are able to continue working while an investigation is being carried out. However, you may be suspended by the bishop once a complaint has reached the stage when the bishop is deciding what course of action to take. You may also be suspended if you are arrested on suspicion of committing a criminal offence.
A suspension pending resolution of proceedings should be imposed by the bishop only if necessary, and preferably by agreement with you. Except when the bishop regards the case as particularly urgent and serious, the bishop should attempt to arrange a meeting with you beforehand to explain the reasons for the suspension.
There is a right of appeal against the imposition of a suspension, or a further period of suspension. The appeal has to be made in writing to the President of Tribunals within 14 days of receipt of the notice of suspension, and the grounds of the appeal should be set out clearly.
It is therefore important that you contact the specialist team at Burton Copeland as soon as you receive a notification of a suspension during investigatory proceedings so that we can help to ensure the best outcome for you.
Can I appeal a decision?
A respondent member of the clergy may seek leave to appeal against any penalty imposed at a disciplinary tribunal hearing on the grounds of either fact or law and leave to appeal may be granted either by the tribunal which dealt with the complaint or by the appropriate appellate court.
The Designated Officer may also seek leave to appeal against any finding of the disciplinary tribunal hearing, but only in relation to a question of law.
All appeals in the province of Canterbury are heard by the Arches Court of Canterbury, and all appeals in the province of York are heard by the Chancery Court of York.
If you want to appeal a decision made by the Disciplinary Tribunal or the Vicar-General’s Court, it’s advisable to speak to a member of our professional discipline team as soon as possible after notification of the decision, if you have not done so already.
Contact Burton Copeland today
If you are a member of the clergy facing an investigation into allegations of misconduct or a Disciplinary Tribunal or Vicar-General’s Court hearing, or if you seek advice on any of the other areas outlined above, please ensure that you speak to one of our professional discipline solicitors in Manchester today by calling 0161 827 9500 or fill in our contact form.