IICSA last week published its report in respect of the case studies relating to the (1) The Diocese of Chichester and (2) The response to allegations against Peter Ball. As with the other reports published by IICSA to date the picture painted of past responses to abuse is not a good one, although the report acknowledges the significant progress made by the Diocese in the last few years and the significantly enhanced focus and investment made now by the national church in respect of safeguarding.
There are five recommendations made which arise directly from the cases studies. Further recommendations will be made after the hearing in July in to wider issues relevant to safeguarding in the wider Anglican community. The report however does also highlight some examples of good practice and suggestions which should be implemented now, not just by the wider Anglican church but also by other organisations where there has been or could be incidents of abuse.
The five core recommendations are:
- The introduction of safeguarding guidance for religious communities – this arises in the context of the Peter Ball case study and his involvement with the Community of the Glorious Ascension. The investigation highlighted the lack of consistency or control there is over Anglican communities. There should be clear safeguarding policies and procedures followed by all, with suitable management and auditing of compliance, across all parts of any organisation.
- Amendment of Canon C30 – this relates to clerical compliance with the Bishop’s Guidance on Safeguarding. As currently drafted it requires all to have “due regard” to the guidance but IICSA noted there was a lack of clarity over what that meant. In a wider context all safeguarding guidance, policies and procedures should be clear so there can be no opportunity for misunderstanding or misinterpretation.
- Amendment of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 – this is to include clergy within the definition of position of trust and thereby criminalise sexual activity between clergy and a person aged 16-18 over whom they exercise pastoral authority involving the position of trust. The Anglican Church cannot itself amend the statute but it and other organisations can in the interim consider and amend their own policies and procedures to replicate the principle behind this recommendation.
- Sanctions for failure to comply with safeguarding procedures – an individual engaged in regulated activity who has failed to undergo a DBS check or completed compulsory training should not be permitted to hold a voluntary office or where a member of the clergy they should be the subject of disciplinary proceedings. This recommendation applies equally to other organisations.
- Disclosure of internal reviews to the national review body – this too can be applied to all relevant organisations. If internal reviews are undertaken but not shared the opportunity for patterns to be identified or lessons to be learned is missed.
Other positive actions identified in the report which can be put in to practice include the following:
- Sharing of information within and across organisations – the report notes as an example of this the failure by the Church and the police to share information which had they done so would have assisted in their respective investigations and the prosecution of offenders, including in connection with Peter Ball. The report notes how when this improved such that a strong and effective relationship was built it contributed to a significant level of progress within a short period of time. The relationship between the Diocese of Chichester and Sussex police is now such that it is described as a model of good practice which should be practised elsewhere.
- Good leadership is critical, as the report notes “an organisation cannot function effectively if its leaders’ relationships are characterised by mistrust”
- Also critical is the commitment of resources to ensure good safeguarding.
- Reviews and internal investigations should have the widest possible reach with appropriate media publication to ensure individuals with information come forward.
- Reputation of the organisation should not be put before the response to victims and survivors.
- When considering allegations of abuse:
- the issue of the character of the accused person is not of any more relevance if that person was held in high esteem. A person’s social or professional status should play no part in determining their guilt or innocence. The utmost care must be made when assessing any allegations whosever they are made against;
- a person’s skills or value to an institution cannot affect the assessment of the risk they pose, nor justify inappropriate decisions on matters of safeguarding;
- the absence of corroborating evidence should not be a factor to be criticised. The typical account is often from a sole complainant;
- victims must be treated as being of equal value to the person who is accused of perpetrating their abuse.
Mandatory reporting and the response to disclosure during confession are 2 linked topics which are considered in the report but no recommendations made regarding the same. The latter, and the appropriateness of breaking the seal of the confession, was also the subject of a report last week by a Church of England working party. The report did not recommend the seal be broken. It is to be debated further.
IICSA’s report also details the matters which will be considered at the July hearing and in the further Anglican report. These include consideration of cultural attitudes towards safeguarding; the response to allegations of abuse from the procedures in place to report the same through investigation, response, pastoral care and redress; and safeguarding training, vetting and barring checks, record keeping and funding.
Written by Michael Pether, partner at BLM