Durham Consistory Court: Bursell Ch. January 1997
A complaint of adultery was made by a parishioner of her parish priest. The bishop, faced with a conflict of evidence, initiated procedures under the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963 and the examiner concluded that a prima facie case was made out. A promoter was duly appointed. Shortly before the hearing unchallenged expert evidence commissioned by the defence revealed
(i) that a material letter which the complainant had denied on oath having written was undeniably in her hand;
(ii) that the complainant had not been pregnant during the time when she claimed to have been carrying the priest's child but she nevertheless persisted in the allegation; and
(iii) that the complainant was suffering from a psychiatric syndrome as a result of which she was deluded as to what had taken place.
The Chancellor cited rule 16(l)(a) of the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction (Discipline) Rules 1964, SI 1964/1755, which provides, "The judge of the Consistory Court may at the hearing, if he thinks that the interests of justice so require, allow the Promoter to withdraw the articles." Mindful that justice must be seen to be done, the Chancellor sought from the promoter the views of the complainant which were that, although she did not withdraw the allegations of adultery (perhaps not surprisingly in the light of the psychiatric evidence of delusion), she recognised that there was insufficient evidence to proceed and did not wish to give evidence herself. The priest, who had denied the allegations throughout, did not wish to press for a hearing. Accordingly the Chancellor gave his permission for the promoter to withdraw the articles.
Note: This case is illustrative of practical and procedural difficulties faced bv those presently preparing the draft measure on clergy discipline giving effect to the recommendations in 'Under Authority' (GS 1217). The reverse of this situation (namely when the prosecuting authority declines to initiate proceedings following a complaint of sexual misconduct) was recently the subject of an action for judicial review in the secular courts. See R v Director of Public Prosecutions and another, ex parte M (13 June 1997, unreported CO/948/96, Brooke LJ and Newman J.).
(1998) 5 Ecc LJ 66-67