I have made some progress towards answering a few of the questions listed in my last blog about the Anglican Church’s treatment of Bishop Bell’s memory.
First, the demand for compensation for sexual offences alleged to have been committed by Bishop Bell from 1949 to 1953 was part of a civil case brought against the current Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner. Civil cases normally have to be brought within twelve years or less, but I had not realised that the courts have discretion to waive the time limit, and do so as a matter of routine in cases of sexual abuse.
This case was settled at the pre-action protocol stage of litigation, which aims to settle cases before they go to court. At 28 July last year (the latest list I can find) there were fourteen of these Protocols, covering different types of case: defamation, civil and engineering disputes, low level injuries in traffic accidents, and so on. I do not know which Protocol applied to this case, but Professional Negligence seems to provide the best fit.
Secondly, there has been a great deal of talk by the Church’s spokesmen about “confidentiality laws” without specification of exactly which laws they were referring to (and the situation was complicated by some of the spokesmen themselves not knowing which laws they were citing).. I now understand that the diocese is relying on the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 and CPR (standing for Civil Procedure Rule) r.31.22. The Act, which applies in England and Wales, forbids publication of the name of a complainant for his/her lifetime; the CPR says that if a document is disclosed to a person for the purposes of the proceedings to which it relates, that person may not disclose it to anyone else.
Thirdly, the Church authorities not only refuse to reveal anything about the evidence they have, nor even the type of evidence (e.g. reports from social services); they also refuse to give any indication of who has seen the evidence. There is no law that requires this degree of non-disclosure; it has simply been a decision taken by the Church at national level.
Although the CPR may preclude disclosure, one would still like to know exactly what “disclosure” means. Obviously, it does not allow direct quotation. But is it allowable, without breaking the law, to say that one of the documents considered in the Diocese’s investigations was a report from a social worker? If so, may the kind of social worker be specified? May the conclusions of such a report be published (without direct quotation)? Could all the documents in the case be publicly listed, provided their detailed contents were not revealed?
Bishop Warner has said that all the professional disciplines that are usually involved in such claims gave advice, but will not say who they were. Could he explain this reticence?
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