Pump Court Chambers

Justin Gau successfully defends clergyman charged with misconduct

News 3rd May 2018

A clergy discipline tribunal considered a complaint made by a clergy man (‘Rev C’) against another clergyman (‘Rev R’) during a hearing from the 12th to the 14th March. The allegations were:

That the conduct of the respondent, the Reverend “R” was unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders within Section 8(1)(d) of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 in that, having befriended the Complainant (“C”) in 1995, who was then 17 years old, and formed a relationship with the Complainant so that he and his parents trusted the respondent to help him achieve his aim of being ordained into the Church:

  1. the respondent had an intimate sexual relationship with the Complainant which started shortly after C’s 18th birthday in 1996 and continued until about 2000;
  2. the respondent invited or allowed C to live with him in the vicarage whilst engaged in a sexual relationship;
  3. through forming a sexual relationship with C, who was over 20 years his junior, the respondent failed to observe and maintain appropriate professional boundaries;
  4. in all the circumstances the respondent led C into a sexual relationship using to his advantage the power imbalance between the respondent and C.

The tribunal unanimously rejected the allegations.

The tribunal dealt with the cross examination of the Complainant by Mr Gau and said:

“We therefore found the direct evidence of sexual relations and some other important and relevant parts of the Complainant’s evidence unconvincing. Although we bear in mind the difficulty of recollection after so long, on the Complainant’s case, these were his first sexual encounters and he had had plenty of time to think about them since making the Complaint. He had also kept mementos of this period of his life in the form of the letters and cards from the Respondent. We therefore found the lack of detail surprising, making allowances for the natural embarrassment in speaking about such matters. Coupled with the clear instances of embellishment that we have recorded we find ourselves with real concerns about the reliability of the Complainant’s evidence on these key matters”.

“We turned to consider the circumstantial evidence of the letters and cards. There is no doubt that the language used and some of the pictures on the cards were extravagant and unwise. They indicate closeness, whether reciprocated or not, bordering on infatuation, for a period of some five months. On the balance of probabilities, however, we do not feel able to infer that they establish the existence of a sexual relationship. We are not called upon to make a ruling on the appropriateness of the Respondent’s actions in sending them. They are only relevant to the Complaint insofar as they are probative of a sexual relationship, and we are not satisfied that they are”.

“We find that the Complainant was resident at the Vicarage from January to September 1997 and thereafter for the majority of his vacations from University and Theological College, but, in view of our finding on the sexual relationship question, we do not find paragraph (ii) of the Complaint proved”.

Bearing in mind their decision the tribunal ruled that the actual names and any other details of the Complainant and the Respondent parties, their witnesses or any other circumstantial information mentioned in its decision that may lead to their identification must not be published or otherwise made public to protect the privacy of all those involved.

To view the judgment in full please click here.

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