The disciplinary process

A diagram showing how the disciplinary procedures work is provided here.

Making a complaint

The disciplinary process is started by a formal written complaint of misconduct, which is made to the bishop (or archbishop, as the case may be). There are four grounds on which misconduct may be alleged, namely: acting in breach of ecclesiastical law; failing to do something which should have been done under ecclesiastical law; neglecting to perform or being inefficient in performing the duties of office; or engaging in conduct that is unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of the clergy.

The complainant must produce written evidence in support of the complaint, and verify the complaint by a statement of truth. The complaint and evidence in support are referred by the bishop to the diocesan registrar for advice on (1) whether the complainant has a proper interest in making the complaint, and (2) whether the allegations are of sufficient substance to justify proceedings under the Measure. This is the 'preliminary scrutiny' stage.

Bishop's decision

Having received the registrar's advice, the bishop may decide that it should be dismissed, in which case it will proceed no further under the Measure. If on the other hand the bishop considers that the complainant has a proper interest in complaining and that the complaint deserves further consideration, he will invite the priest or deacon about whom the complaint is made ('the respondent'), to send a written answer verified by a statement of truth, together with evidence in support. The bishop will then decide which of five possible courses of action available to him under the Measure is the appropriate one to pursue. He can:

  1. take no further action;
  2. record the complaint conditionally for a period of up to five years, such that if another complaint is made within that time and is dealt with under paragraphs c, d or e below, the two complaints may then be dealt with together;
  3. refer the complaint to a conciliator in an attempt to obtain agreement between the complainant and the respondent as to how the complaint should be resolved;
  4. impose a disciplinary penalty (but only with the consent of the respondent); or
  5. require the complaint to be formally investigated by the Designated Officer, a barrister employed in the Church of England Legal Office.

Bishop's disciplinary tribunal

The vast majority of cases will be dealt with by the bishop of the relevant diocese. In the small minority of cases where the Designated Officer is asked to investigate, a report will be produced for the President of Tribunals, who will then decide whether there is a case to answer before a bishop's disciplinary tribunal. Tribunals consist of two members in Holy Orders and two communicant lay members, plus an experienced lawyer in the chair. If a complaint is proved, the tribunal can impose the same range of penalties that a bishop can impose by consent, ranging from a rebuke to lifelong prohibition from exercising any ministerial functions.

The Archbishops' list

Where a penalty is imposed under the Measure, either by the bishop or by the bishop's disciplinary tribunal, it will be recorded in the Archbishops' list, which is maintained at Lambeth Palace. The respondent will be informed of the particulars to be recorded, and may request the President of Tribunals to review the entry.

Proceedings in secular courts

The Measure provides a separate procedure under which a member of the clergy who commits a criminal offence may be liable to a penalty of removal from office, or prohibition from exercising any functions.  A similar procedure is available if a respondent has had a decree of divorce or an order of judicial separation made against him or her and has committed adultery, behaved unreasonably or deserted the former spouse.