Christ Church cannot afford the perception of a ‘Show Trial’

Nov 26, 2021 by

by Martin Sewell, Archbishop Cranmer:

Integrity should lie at the heart of every public institution. In the United Kingdom, Her Majesty the Queen models the highest standards of behaviour which ought to be followed across the layers of our society, but few live up to her example, which is why we have a Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, a Solicitors Regulation Authority, and a Charity Commission.

Vigilance is essential, but we also rely heavily upon the personal integrity of those peopling our institutions.

Judicial standards concerning ‘apparent bias’ are high, and were well explained in the case of the General Pinochet extradition. Amnesty International had intervened in the appeal in the House of Lords which found against Pinochet by a majority of 3:2. Lord Hoffmann, one of the majority, was chair and director of Amnesty International Charity Ltd, but without any suggestion of personal involvement in the case. However, that was enough to set aside the entire proceedings. The lead judgment explained:

Senator Pinochet does not allege that Lord Hoffmann was in fact biased. The contention is that there is a real danger or reasonable apprehension or suspicion that Lord Hoffmann might have been biased, that is to say it is alleged that there is an appearance of bias not actual bias.

From such cases we derive the expectation that from the lowliest JP to the members of the Supreme Court, each will have proper regard to the well-established standards of judicial probity. Those judging others must not only be uncorrupted and wholly independent, but also free of all taint of suspicion. This brings us to the latest development in the vexed case of the malcontents of Christ Church, Oxford, and their continuing efforts to remove their Dean, the Very Rev’d Professor Martyn Percy.

In 2020, the Church of England foolishly admitted two members of the College faction seeking the Dean’s removal to the national Core Group considering a separate allegation (later roundly dismissed). That was utterly inappropriate. How could complainants be permitted to sit and decide whether their own complaint merited a full inquiry?

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