In July 2016, the General Synod gave final approval to a package of proposals intended to take further the process of making the Church a safer place for children and vulnerable adults:
- By making the disciplinary processes under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 more effective where safeguarding issues arise; and,
- By strengthening the Church's wider legal framework in relation to safeguarding in various ways.
The legislation was originally introduced in February 2014 following a consultation launched at Synod in July 2013.
Speaking in the debate, Bishop Paul Butler said, "We all want every single one of our churches and institutions to be safer places and communities for all people; notably for children and adults at times of risk and harm, whether that be long or short term." He added that along with facing up to the consequences of the past "our emphasis has to be on prevention" stressing that, along with the new legislation, high quality training, safe recruiting and effective quality assurance needed to be implemented at every level of church life.
The Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure and Amending Canon No. 34 contains a range of elements including:
- Adding to the bishop's existing powers to suspend a priest or deacon, extending to circumstances where the local authority or police provide information which leads the bishop to be satisfied that they present a significant risk of harm. With similar powers for an archbishop to suspend a bishop in such circumstances. (As with all existing provisions this includes a right of appeal to President of Tribunals where suspension occurs).
- Provision for the disqualification from office as a churchwarden or member of a parochial church council (PCC) anyone whose name appears on a statutory barred list (under the Safeguarding and Vulnerable Groups Act).
- Provision for the bishop to suspend a churchwarden or PCC member on safeguarding grounds in circumstances similar to suspending clergy (with a similar right of appeal).
- For the first time a statutory obligation on office holders in the Church to have regard to safeguarding guidance issued by the House of Bishops. (It has previously been expected of clergy but it is now formalised into a statutory provision.) Failure to comply with this obligation now constitutes misconduct under the Clergy Discipline Measure.
- A duty for PCCs to include a statement in their Annual Report as to whether they have complied with safeguarding guidance issued by the House of Bishops.
- Removal of current one year limitation period that applies generally to complaints of clergy misconduct: in relation to complaints of clergy sexual misconduct towards children and vulnerable adults there will be no time limit.
- Canonical duty on diocesan bishop to have a Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser ('DSA') to carry out certain functions. Dioceses have in fact had DSAs for a number of years but this formalizes the requirement to ensure proper provision is in place.
- A new power given to archbishops and bishops to direct bishops and clergy to undergo a risk assessment (with it the right to request that the President of Tribunals reviews the direction). Subject to this review, it would be misconduct to refuse to undergo the assessment.
- Similar powers for the bishop in relation to readers and layworkers.
Some of this legislation will come into force on 1st October 2016, and other sections on 1st January 2017.
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