Tag Archives: #law

Sympathy for the Bishop of Chichester

Brother Ivo once knew a soldier who confessed that his greatest fear was being bayoneted to death by someone whose heart wasn’t in the job.

If he was going to be killed, then let it be by a professional who took pride in his efficiency, someone who got on with the job, and did it properly.

There are many jobs which we might find emotionally difficult; amongst these are trauma surgeon, funeral director, and slaughterman.

Lawyers too are used to delivering bad news. Sometimes they have to revisit their initial opinion and advise that a case that once look promising has been fatally flawed by new evidence; sometimes it is worse, that there is a known injustice, but the proof is just not there. Cancer specialists have to add a similar grim dimension to their necessary skillset. They become practiced and case hardened.

That is not the same as being cold and heartless, but professionalism comes from exposure to such problems on a regular basis.

It is worth reflecting on these examples when one contemplates the predicament of the Bishop of Chichester as he hears calls for a comprehensive review of the George Bell decision which inevitably carries the implication  that Bishop Bell’s accuser may not have the closure of which he assured her.

He will have spent time with, gained her confidence,  assured her that  all would be done properly and all that is now in question.

It is clear that he feels deeply for all victims of abuse. That is entirely right, proper and to his credit.

As he contemplates the moves at General Synod to question the processes by which the Church reached its conclusions, his mind will inevitably go to her individual need and he may well have a desire to protect her. It is hard for him, and we should be kind in our judgment and supportive with our prayers.

Yet, “Carol’s” wishes and needs cannot be determinative.

None of us know how this matter will unfold, yet the one thing of which we may be sure, is that those seeking to establish openess of process believe that this is a fundamentally important to the future integrity of the Chuch and its safeguarding responsibilities.

Pastoral care for those who come to us matters hugely but so does justice.We are enjoined to be as gentle as doves -but also as wise as serpents.

If the church leaders decide to be obdurate, we are headed for a prolonged campaign. If the Church limits it review of the case to an unsatisfying restrictive review of its processes,  without allowing fresh evidence and the possibility of a different conclusion, it will not satisfy those who have a wider and important perspective. The pain and the uncertainty for everyone not least for ” Carol” and Bishop Martin will be prolonged, and it will be prolonged because of a lack of professionalism.

As Shakespeare’ Othello agonises having resolved to kill his wife ” If ’twere to be done, tis better it be done quickly.

Chichester Diocese can learn from its own lessons

The Anglican Church has been considering the Elliott Review into its handling of child abuse matters,  hot on the heels of the Archbishop of Canterbury feeling obliged to issue an apology over such matters in Jersey. At the other end of the country, a victim of abuse has called for the Bishop of Durham -the Church’s lead Bishop in the field – to undergo retraining following mistakes in the North.

In Scotland a 2 the secular world, in Scotland  a 2 year old has suffered dreadfully through institutional Child Protection systemic weakness, and in Northern Ireland, the Kincora Inquiry is beginning its work into  accusations of State Agencies looking the other way to protect the abuser, who, it is suggested, was a security asset.

We never seem to get away from this terrible subject, and when stories come so quickly, one after another, it is easy to glaze over, switch off, and hope that lessons will be learned.

Only, they are not. They never have been, not since the dreadful case of Maria Colwell in 1973, and not following the dozens of case inquiries since.

Everytime we have these tragedies looked into,  the same problems are identified. Case files are neglected, social workers are changed too often, multiple reports are dismissed or not connected, neighbours speak once and when nothing happens assume all is well. The other side of the road is a well trodden path.

The Institutional Church is in just such a mode, even now, despite all the failures within the Church, and outside. Too easily we issue the apology, assert that “lessons have been learnt” , raise our eyes to higher things and move on.

“Moving on” includes a complacency about too many clergy who have avoided attending necessary training and only undertake it with astonishing self confidence in their own ability in this complex field,, despite the plain evidence that better trained and more experienced social work specialists, doctors, lawyers and Judges are constantly falling into error.

On the ground, too many Church folk still believe ” it couldn’t happen here “: in the hierarchy, too many subscribe to the belief that they know what they are doing;and yet, without in the least decrying their bona fides, it has to be said that the story of institutions in many fields across our culture is one of recurring amnesia in this difficult area.

There have been over 30 child protection Public Inquiries concerning child deaths, and the depressing theme that runs through all of them, is that they all say the same thing. Procedures are not complied with, files are transferred and continuitity lost, “dots are not connected” at the vital time, and yet in retrospect, once the tragedy has occurred, it is usually blindingly obvious that any halfway competent review would have seen where it was heading.

Heavens, even Brother Ivo’s writing tends to become repetitive when he returns to this theme!

A culture of complacency creeps back in, and those raising critical and discordant commentary are told to relax, they are assured that lessons have been learnt, and urged that it is unhelpful to draw attention to the Church having a poor history of managing child protection.

This is is why the campaign to review the case of Bishop Bell is so important.

It is of greater importance that simply restoring a historical legacy: in truth, it  is a challenge to the very culture of the church hierarchy, which is one of being instinctively opaque, deferential and unaccountable.

The fact that the Bell case seeks to question poor process in relation to the accused is irrelevant. A Church that can get it right in secrecy, can get it wrong in secrecy, and will have all the necessary tools with which to bury its mistakes

That cases has been made before, both here and elsewhere.

What is new,and that can be said now, is to highlight the amnesia.

We have ” got it right ” and then promptly forgotten the lesson, and this can be demonstrated in the very Diocese of Chichester in which the Bishop Bell controversy is playing out.

Whenever questions about the inquiry process surrounding Bishop Bell are asked, the official response is that nothing can be said because to answer any question would be to breach the right to confidentiality belonging to the complainant. It is deployed as a shield to silence  even those questions touching upon the actions of the institution rather than the circumstances of the accuser. Apparently the cloak of secrecy is drawn so tightly, that even members of the Cathedral Chapter are excluded and frustrated.

Yet there is a double absurdity.

Chichester Diocese is primly refusing to answer questions at the same time that a Public Inquiry into the Kincora Children Home is openly exploring the role (if any) of the security services in covering up abuse.

Victims testimony will be disclosed and agents of MI5, MI6, and Army Intelligence will have to account for their their actions and policies, and yet, according to the Church hierarchy, the Bell case is so impacted by the law of confidentiality, that we cannot even be told whether the accuser’s medical records were examined to determine if her own publicly acknowledged history of mental health fragility shed any light on the story. It is not the content of those records that is sought, but simply confirmation of the fact  that such evidence was considered by a suitably qualified expert ,capable of evaluating the relevance – if any.

That is not a matter of confidentiality; it is a matter of procedural competence.

Yet one does not need to reference the Northern Ireland Public Inquiry to flag up the contrasting absurdity.

On the Diocese of Chichester’s own website, one can read a 54 page report into a previous child protection scandal. Worried at what went wrong in the case of Roy Cotton and Colin Pritchard  the Diocese commissioned a report from Dame Elizabeth Butler Sloss, whose  report into Child Protection failures at Cleveland as long ago as 1987 set the benchmark for transparency and clarity about how such cases can be investigated and the conclusions put proportionately in the public domain.

On Chichester’s own website, Dame Elizabeth sets out a textbook template which shows how it is possible to balance the public interest in open justice, with due care for the privacy of the complainant. It can be done, it has been done. It can be read in all its transparent fullness here

Chichester  must revisit its own archive and draw suitable conclusions.

Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.

This is the lesson that must be drawn from all these past tragedies. We have short term memories but highly entrenched corporate instincts towards secrecy.

This matter will not go away. It will be raised at Question Time at the next General Synod in York. If transparency does not begin thereafter, we shall have to seek a full public debate about the Church’s instinct against openness, by which the default position of “Trust me I’m a Bishop’ is exposed for the absurd foolishness that it is.






Where are the French Human Rights Lawyers?

Brother Ivo was listening to a Conservative MP speaking on the radio who discharged her responsibility towards holding Government to account by challenging the policy not to accept unaccompanied children from the Calais migrant camp known as ” The Jungle”.

Readers may may know that Brother Ivo has advised that such acceptances must not be based upon an arbitrary number but calibrated to the recruitment of suitable foster carers who are properly supported and resourced.

The State is notoriously a bad parent, and the ranks of the homeless, the depressed, the imprisoned, the suicidal and the parents of children taken into care, are disproportionately represented by those who were once children in the care of institutional parents.

Children from war zones who are let down by poorly managed processes will be especially vulnerable to future radicalisation. By all means be generous, but let us recognise that compassion on the cheap will not end well. If it is going to be done. let it be done with competence as well as compassion.

The lady MP  pressing her Government was very persuasive however, especially as she spoke of children being abused daily in the camps and needing to be ” sewn up ” after abuse. That was a “game changing image”.

Who could not be moved to act as the nature of the problem was thus described? Two small words, but  a horrific and unforgettable image imparted.

The Government has shifted under such advocacy: one only hopes that they will heed a Brother Ivo’s warning and do what is necessary to make the policy a long term success and not just a short term sop to the public conscience.

Yet, the description of the lady MP – whose name Brother Ivo regrettably did not catch – raises two important collateral matters.

First, it does impact on the view which ordinary people may have of the adult inhabitants of the Jungle: if this is happening on a nightly basis, why is not the adult population of that camp not taking some responsibility for the war zone young?

We are told that they are talented people who, given the chance, will be net improvers of British society.  Doubtless there will be those who are acting to protect the young, but evidently there are many whose resonse to vulnerability is to exploit it.

“Open borders” is not a policy assisted by such stories.

There is a second implication.

If this is what is so widely and blatantly occurring to the very young, what are the French authorities doing about it? If the French State is protectively absent where is the French outcry?

More specifically, where is the French Human Right lobby and it’s associated lawyers?

French jurisprudence has traditionally been very strong on ” The Rights of Man”. They may have been inspired in this by the English Thomas Paine, but we’ll let that pass.

When Paris terrorist Salah Abdeslam was arrested in Belgium, he was immediately assisted by a lawyer there,  and when he was transferred to France, a French lawyer was promptly engaged. This tradition of leaping to the defence of the unpopular is deeply engaged in the legal/political class of France

The late french Left wing Lawyer Jacques Verges was legendary for his defence of human rights violators from terrorist “Carlos the Jackel” through ” the butcher of Lyons ” Klause Barbie, to the head of the Khmyr Rouge Khieu Samphan. Maitre Verges volunteered to represent each of them. He inspired generations of politically motivated lawyers.

Human Rights lawyers are very good at defending monsters creatively against  perceived threats to their human rights violations, real or imagined .

So where are they, in calling to account the French Government for its failure to protect these unaccompanied children? In England, Social Services would not be allowed to stand idly by such “no go zones” whilst small children are nightly abused; they consider removing children from foster carers who smoke or flirt with voting UKIP.

So what is the story in France?

Advocates of the UK remaining in the EU are currently suggesting that were we to leave, UK Human Rights jurisprudence would grind to a halt. So here is the question-

if European Human Right Jurisprudence is so superior, so activist in defence of Human Rights, so confronting of State injustice – why is it not being deployed to protect the children of “The Jungle”?


Do we respect Roma culture?

The news that the President of the Family Court has turned down a request by a Roma couple that their children should not be adopted by a gay couple, should come as no surprise. Sir James Munby has a past history of being unsympathetic to the role of religion in the public sphere, so the outcome was probably a foregone conclusion. Nevertheless, Brother Ivo finds it rather sad.

All such cases are sad. Even parents who have neglected their children, are rarely without feeling for them, and often the problems arise out of deep seated problems rather than innate cruelty. When the State intervenes, it should be done with a heavy heart, and it can be done with a degree of respect. The pain of separation is real, and empathy can extend even to those whose actions we condemn.

The couple are Roman Catholic and they did not want their children brought up in a gay household. They advanced their case with reference to their children suffering “emotional harm” in the event of the adoption proceeding. Without seeing the papers one cannot judge if that had any merit at all, yet in today’s politically correct environment such an argument probably did not have even a theoretical chance.

Brother Ivo has enough knowledge of this subject to know that the research evidence is fairly conclusive so far: children brought up in gay relationships have at least as good outcomes as those raised within more traditional structures, if not better. On utilitarian grounds alone, Sir James was entitled to find as he did. Yet the Welfare Checklist enacted in the Children Act also requires Courts to factor in respect for the religious and cultural needs of children; these boys are Roma and Roman Catholic.

However sucessful an adoption, a high percentage of children now exercise their rights to trace their birth family and contact is re-established. That family may be in Romania, and not as PC as Sir James.
It is not fanciful to consider that their future reception may not be as seamless in Romania as in Kent.

Even that, is not the fundamental point for Brother Ivo.

It is good practice, though not universally applied, to engage parents in the choice of future adopters whenever possible. Surprising as it may be, in the agony of giving up a child, some parents can and do contribute to the selection process, it can be the last exercise of parental responsibility, a last gift, and when parents engage actively in it, they are to be commended and respected. It must be unimaginably hard.

Plainly an invitation to engage does not confer a right to delay or obstruct: when children must be placed in new homes, it must be advanced purposefully.

Yet, given the availability of competing potential parents of equal quality, would it really do harm if parents such as these were able to exercise a preference in keeping with their cultural and religious backgrounds?

We are told that the majority of people in this country approve gay relationships. If that is true, and given the statistics of success for gay adoptions, there ought not to be any lack of children who could be placed with the approved and no doubt thoroughly decent gay adopters. It simply seems to Brother Ivo that there is no imperative for them to adopt these children. There is no lack of children in need of secure and dedicated new parents.

Brother Ivo is not basing his disquiet on any anti-gay sentiment: he has had some direct involvement in supporting lovely gay adopters who have done sterling work for needy children. Rather, he would couch his point on common humanity.

We appear so determined to enforce a principle that we abandon human feeling. It would surely not be so very terrible to have allowed the religious and cultural values of this unfortunate couple, losing their children, one last decision.

It need not have been a high profile matter of principle: in the privacy of a social work office, social workers could have heard the parental views, found a way of accommodating their concerns and offered different children to the gay adopters from parents who had no such objections. Would that have been so very terrible?

It is not unprecedented. For many years, families willing and suitable to adopt children of black or asian origin have been outinely rejected for perceived cultural reasons -real or imagined. That policy is being changed for purely pragmatic reasons. There are such a number of ethnic minority children who cannot be placed placed with a closely matched family that something has to give and the politically correct principle is being ditched by political direction from above.

It won’t happen here: the Prime Minister is too invested in the “equality agenda”and
perhaps that is not entirely ignoble.

Yet history teaches us that too strict an attachment to principle can result in injustice and even inhumanity, and even with noble aspirations, ordinary people suffer unnecessarily. Perhaps the Roma community feels that by this decision, it has been shown a lack of respect for its identity and values.

Brother Ivo thought this bothered our metropolitan culture, but plainly he must have imagined it.
Sent from my Ipad
Martin Sewell

The Oklahoma Execution





The overnight news from Oklahoma about a prolonged execution is both disturbing and distressing, whatever one’s views upon another country’s policy on the death penalty.

Even its most ardent advocates will be generally unhappy to hear how long it took to execute Clayton Lockett by lethal injection, and there has been a necessary delay in the next scheduled execution whilst an inquiry into the efficacy of the concoction of the drugs is undertaken. It will be making headline news across Europe.

Mercifully, it appears that Mr Lockett had lost consciousness after ten minutes, having been initially sedated, nevertheless the subsequent events are distressing even if one is not unduly squeamish. The process took over 40 minutes, the man spoke three times, albeit incoherently, and at the end a curtain was drawn to exclude the witnesses from viewing his end.

Brother Ivo notes that his end was a better one than his victim: he had shot 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman and watched two accomplices bury her alive in 1999. The Oklahoma Governor Mary Falling said “Our goal is to make sure justice is served. The courts have ruled, and there is no doubt as to the guilt of the perpetrators of the crimes.”

The death penalty is a controversial subject and it is hard to imagine it being re-introduced in most countries where it has been abandoned. It is worth recalling, in passing,  that for all the modern disapproval, its abolition was effected against the wishes of the majority in this country.

Our media reports the events with ill disguised disapproval of the policy, and yet we simultaneously end the lives of our pets by lethal injection, and many are pressing for the right to elect to end their days by a similar  “merciful”  means. We sell military equipment to all kinds of regimes, many of which kill non combatants in horrible ways, and if the EU attempted to withhold the sale abortifacients to other countries, all hell would break out.

As we read the story we should remind ourselves that peaceful just ends came to many convicted murderers in the USA before the European Parliament prevented the sale of the execution drugs to the USA. By that decision a less than satisfactory outcome has resulted.

If we are tempted to move to judgement, ought to be ready to accept our role in this. Whether one approves of the death penalty or not, things have become worse as a result of our representatives decision.

As we contemplate its consequences, we ought to be asking whose interests are being served by this policy. Compassion comes in many forms as our progressive friends regularly tell us in support of a number of non-Christian ethical positions.

Brother Ivo is of similar mind to William Shakespeare’s Othello.

“If ‘t were to be done, tis better to be done quickly”.


Mapping the Liberal conscience


“The Past is a foreign country, they do things differently there” wrote L P Hartley, and there must be a few Lib Dems wishing at this time that they could escape to such places, given the political mess they currently find themselves in. The problem is that many of the principles that are currently boxing them in are ones which they have espoused over the years.

Political Parties are supposed to appeal to the public because they have acquired a reputation for both competence and integrity, and on both those measures things are not going well.

The principles causing the difficulty are not ignoble, but it is very easy to adopt and promote virtue in the abstract. The problems of Justice are always when one gets down to specifics, especially when PR considerations and political expediency leads one into uncharted and hostile territory.

If one undertook a Grand Tour of the past,  one  of those  “foreign countries” would have had a custom whereby a woman, groped by a senior man in an organisation, would scarcely have needed to be told to “keep it to herself”. By “making a fuss” she would have called her own reputation into question and provoked much chattering as to her character being “no better than she ought to be”. The Lib Dems would not be happy residents there – and that is to their credit.

In a neighbouring country however, there would once have been a different regime. When an important figure necessary to the political credibility of their political project looked its inhabitants in the eye, and said “I did not have sex with that woman”, many in that country wished to believed in his honour and were moved to uncritically accept the assertion. Anyone who questioned the denial would have come under withering fire for playing “party politics” when the dignity of High Office was at stake.

On learning of the falsehood, another tranche of liberal opinion would have pivoted and said something along the lines ” at this point in time -what difference does it make” reminding all of the many good things the fallen hero brought to the party and urging forgiveness.

The fact that the fallen hero had spent much time lying and trashing the reputation of the complaining women would have been swiftly forgotten. After a short period of  “regret” upon being diagnosed as suffering a previously unsuspected medical condition of “sex addiction”, the newly designated victim-sinner would have become re-admitted to polite society and resumed his honoured place, reputation un-blemished.

His wife accomplice, who had known of his propensity for extra marital dalliance for years, had swiftly joined in the denigration of the ordinary women accusers, yet in the world of the liberal conscience now feels able to run for his old office in the guise of a feminist icon.

That country might be worth a tarry for our liberal friends, but getting to that place is not always easy now for the path leading to it is beset by brigands bloggers who have a nasty habit of reminding folk of past high minded assertions and inconsistencies.

A simpler regime existed where an accused public figure might say “frankly my dear I don’t give a damm”. Such laissez faire morality is no longer acceptable to those whose approach to sexual mores hovers between the politically correct and 60’s sexual liberation. “Publish and be dammed” though an engagingly frank approach is no longer acceptable; it  just sounds so patrician, and we can’t have that.

In a conjoined territory, if one is attractive enough, behaviour which might otherwise have been scandalous would be quickly over-looked and a section of womanhood might be more inclined to be supportive when the hero was exposed as roguish. He might even become a leading campaigner to restrict the rights of a free press to report such matters. Many Lib Dems have been tempted to take up dual nationality there.

There was once a very straight-laced country where the very hint of scandal was enough to compel a man of honour to step down from the public stage. That had the considerable merit of swiftness and clarity, and its clinical brutality helped many a would- be- sinner to keep his libido in check. “One strike  and you’re out” was a harsh approach that risked injustice to the powerful, but it had the merit of avoiding expeditions into the debatable lands of moral equivocation and uncertain outcome.

Some past countries managed such things with a recourse to  liberal theology. “We have all sinned”; ” let he who is without sin cast the first stone”,;”when one points the finger of blame, three fingers are pointing back at oneself”. Such thinking makes the sinner’s lot  much easier, except that without an indictment having at least been laid, there can be no justice for the victims.

In yet another country of their Grand Tour of the Past, any man, once acquitted, was treated as innocent and entitled to resume his place, though that does seem a very long time ago, and long before Jeremy Thorep’s acquittal on criminal charges ended all hope of a return to office, notwithstanding the juries’ verdict.

With such a confusion of principle and precedent, the Lib Dems truly do find themselves all at sea. No other party or public bodies need be too complacent however, it is a common enough dilemma for all those whose principles are malleable.

It is all too human to want the best of bot worlds, the satisfaction of abuse condemned, the utility of talent preserved for future use.

A political party needs two landmarks by which people may navigate their way into the voting booth. Brother Ivo repeats for emphasis,  the first is competence and the other is integrity.

The Lord Rennard scandal harms his party on both counts.

Their processes have proved incompetent. Institutionally. the victims are not disbelieved, yet the standards of proof required by party rules are not met and the “acquittal” is presented as of little practical worth. It is rather like the Magistrate who once declared, “There is an element of doubt in this case- but you’re not going to get the benefit of  it”.

We might remind ourselves that we remove children from vulnerable parents in this country if there is a “risk of significant harm”. Lib Dems tend to support that formulation, yet it actually means that parents who have not yet caused harm,  lose their children when we do not have enough resources or will to support a harm minimisation strategy.

In stark contrast to this, a major political party sets the bar for the protection of a senior member at the much much higher standard – that of “proof beyond reasonable doubt.

That high standard also contrasts with that which our liberal society sets for when a school child is accused of making a “racist” comment; in such circumstances the test is whether the “victim” feels it is “racist” : if subjectively judged to be so by the accuser,then it is. Children’s records are being thus marked with this most poisonous of charges upon a very low standard of accusation, without there having been too much outcry from our liberal friends about that injustice.

These liberal positions contrast significantly with what we see in the Lord Rennard case: no wonder he, we, and the Lib Dem Party managers are confused over the points of principle.

Lost along the way in this saga has been something that many liberals have espoused as a much needed innovative reform to our civil justice system.

“Restorative Justice” is promoted by  many liberal thinkers as a more “healing” way forward. Accuser and victim are brought together with a skilled facilitator and their past tensions thus resolved through dialogue.

It is odd that those who urge this method of conflict resolution upon elderly victims of violence do not employ it for their own troubled relationships. One fears that within all our political parties, broken reputations are more more valued than broken bones.

US Vice President Hubert once counselledPresidential hopeful Eugene McCarthy, “Never run on the sainthood ticket” but this is a tributary down which the Lib Dems have so often veered and the recollection of it is adding to their woes. No wonder they are finding themselves up the creek without a paddle.

One cannot help but agree with the conclusion of Charles Moore in yesterdays Telegraph that however reprehensible one might find sexual harassment by those in authority, there is no better way forward than to devise prudent fair procedures and to stick to them. The current position of equivocal acquittal is disastrous politically, ethically and juristically.

As any church leader could have advised from their own recent experience under the lights of publicity,  deviation from the path of due process is never wise and usually leads an organisation into the slough of despond.



A New Year Resolution for the Church


Today stands between the day on which we commemorated the Holy Innocents, and the secular festival at which we attempt to make life improving resolutions which we shall almost certainly fail to live up to within hours.

Many, appreciating their own personal character weakness where weight loss is concerned, will simply choose not to make any resolutions for the New Year at all, and that will deliver its own slew of remorse.

This is therefore a good time for Brother Ivo to offer a New Year Resolution to everyone in the Church which is practical, necessary, and which the vast majority who adopt it will feel totally unthreatening. It will never be regretted.

That resolution is for the Church to “Make Child Abuse History”

Over the past few years, the Church, along with many other institutions, such as the police, schools and BBC have grappled with the horrors of child abuse. A cultural change towards the acceptance of disclosure has resulted in a vast legacy of historic abuse being uncovered as more and more people step forward to say that “this happened to me”.

The Church has yet to receive the credit it deserves for a subsequent committed, thorough and conscientious response to its past failures. Advice has been sought, experts consulted, policies developed guidelines published and courses have been run with healthy attendances. The files of retired and deceased clergy, some painfully thin, have been examined and victims offered counselling and overdue apologises. Insurers have paid out.

Despite a genuinely creditable response, the old adage “Thou shalt not win” can scarcely be better illustrated than by the way the news has been greeted that the Church has  been seeking record numbers of police checks upon its employees and volunteers. How odd, given the history, that the latest criticism has been couched in terms of the Church being over-scrupulous in this regard.

There is more to come as long planned programmes are rolled out in the months ahead within a widespread climate of renewed responsibility accepted by the higher echelons  of the Churches, and yet there is still genuine cause for concern that all will not be well.

Churches are places of special vulnerability where abuse is concerned. We deliberately set out to attract children and to welcome the vulnerable. Nobody wants to think it can happen on their watch, in their corner of respectability. Our mission statement is to be undiscriminating about those to whom we minister. Our very desire to think well of all,  is our principle weakness where the predatory paedophile is concerned.

They do not arrive with a forked tail and cloven hooves. They look and behave much like the rest of us – only more so. They are kind, helpful, industrious, outwardly faithful , and perhaps most difficult of all, frequently indispensable. Some may lack self awareness and not appreciate where their corner cutting of procedures and protocols will lead. They may be female as well as male, married, straight, gay or ostensibly celibate: they may be under age, clerical or lay. They can also be very plausible, persuasive and possessed of easily injured feelings.

It is only in comparatively recent years that we have come to appreciate the complexity of identifying and addressing this problem on both an institutional and personal level.

Those charged with improving the Church’s response to the problem, which includes Brother Ivo in a minor way, will have long term term work to do, because both the nature of the problem, and our understanding of it mutates on a regular basis. Five years ago Jimmy Savile was an eccentric hero a “cheeky chap” beloved of all for all the good he did. Let that be your warning.

Like the thief in the night we do not know the hour or the identity of the next malefactor to threaten our churches. Faith confers no immunity.

There have been over 30 Public Inquiries into child deaths in recent decades. The one constant theme to emerge from these most extreme and distressing examples of child abuse is that “Everybody knew a little but nobody joined up the dots”. It applied in the Jimmy Savile case; it applied in the case of the Bradford Muslim taxi driver child abuse ring; it will apply in the next scandal of the church organist and the choir member. Often the victim will have been manipulated not to see their own victimhood and may protect his/her abuser.

The price of freedom from child abuse is eternal vigilance and that is both routine and frequently dull.
There is no point in devising thorough Child and Vulnarable adult policies unless there is scrupulous, painstaking, and persistent application of them on a daily basis. It is the responsibility of every Priest, Minister, Church Warden. Youth Worker. PCC member, and worshipper.

Whilst discussing this with colleagues, Brother Ivo was alarmed to hear than one of the continuing problems in the rolling out of protective measures is the misguided resistance of a significant proportion of incumbents who suffer either from  over confidence in their own insights, or excessive suspicion of encroachment upon their own autonomy from the Church hierarchy.

In the Church of England the independence of the incumbent is frequently overlooked by outsiders who over estimate the coercive power of the Bishop.  A Bishop can lead persuade and cajole, but the legal pressures he can exercise are less than many appreciate Such local independence and autonomy  is valued theologically by many. It is also is the single weakest spot in the Church’s protection of the vulnerable.

No incumbent where abuse occurred, wanted it to happen , but it very rarely arrives out of a clear blue sky. After the event, it is always possible to look back and see where simple adherence to basic protective principles would have averted or mitigated the harm. If the recent scandals in the major institutions teach the lowly parish officer anything, it is that even the most sophisticated of organisations become complacent, and fail to see the obvious.

Plainly procedures do not of themselves protect, yet well considered structures help us in every aspect of our lives, and stopping child abuse is no different.

So if you are short of a New Year resolution, Brother Ivo invites you to resolve to make it your business to take child protection seriously and to help “Make Child Abuse history”.

In practice this means asking your church about its acceptance of its Diocesan policies and guidelines, and how it plans to audit compliance on a regular basis.

It is not an easy thing to do and may not make you popular, yet Jesus plainly had strong views on the welfare of His little ones, and little will gladden His heart more than each of us taking a personal interest in keeping them safe and happy as we speak of his love.

Redefined Religion is but the latest unintended consequence of the Equality Act


The Supreme Court has chosen to change the Law and declare the Church of Scientology an officially recognised religion for the purposes of conducting marriages at their premises. The decision will inevitably have wider implications because of the fiscal consequences relating to the tax treatment of premises of religion. The Church will now also enjoy access to charitable status and protection under the law against religious discrimination.

Where this new church leads, others will follow, and it is not special pleading from an adherent of an established faith, to observe that when legal privileges and immunities are extended, they may also become diluted. Some,  who may be tolerated as a small acceptable exception in restricted cases,  may eventually find that an extension of a legal class moves it towards a tipping point, at which agitation begins to abolish the special status privilege or immunity altogether.

One senses that would not bother the members of the Supreme Court much.

Archbishop Cranmer has comprehensively explained and analysed the implications of the case: if readers are not yet au fait with the detail of the matter they can catch up  here

His Grace  illustrates Brother Ivo’s fears for the future by exploring how badly the Labour Party predicted the implications of its Equality legislation when it declared in answer to a direct question on the subject stating that hat nothing it was enacting would result in an alteration to the business rates which exempts churches. It did and it will.

This single piece of legislation has had more unintended consequences than any other and it has not finished yet.

What the supporters of the legislation did not say, or did not understand, was that by the Act which they were promoting, they were elevating the Judiciary – ultimately the Supreme Court – to become unelected co-legislators by placing in their hands a set of principles that carried latent within it the opportunity to make decisions relating to age old practices, institutions, and understandings, without having the inconvenience of ever consulting the public. What could possibly go wrong?

Law has always been interpreted by Judges, and there has been a long discourse in academic circles about the extent to which Judicial discretions might be stretched before infringing the important bulwark of British liberty, the separation of powers.

We paid lip service to that doctrine when we effectively demoted the ancient office of Lord Chancellor to become a rather dowdy Minister of Justice,  and appointed a series of hang dog second raters who would never have graced the woolsack in better times. We did so because the ancient office embodied in the single person of the Lord Chancellor, a member of the Government. the Speakership of the Upper House, and the most senior of Judges. He infringed the separation doctrine so he had to go. It was not appreciated how complex that was, either.

We have since endowed the Supreme Court with the powers to legislate with few having noticed that this is in itself problematic.

 In the days of clearer jurisprudence, the rules of statutory interpretation , were developed to delimit the extent to which which judges might employ their creative legislative power.

When those discretions were exercised within  the primacy of the Common Law tradition, the interpretations and adjustments were very Anglo-centric, constantly referencing English traditions, customs, attitudes and concepts of fairness. Why anyone should have regarded this as problematic is not understood by Brother Ivo.

The influence of English culture, law and constitutional tradition has spread beyond its shores and even when it was initially imposed colonially, the intrinsic values of the English ways were recognised and accepted long after the Empire and Commonwealth receded. It is no accident that so many of the safest and comfortable so places in the world in which to live, fall under the “Anglo-sphere” description.

By its Scientology decision, however, the Court  has stepped away from its Anglo-heritage and embraced the more European tradition.

Instead of interpreting the law from and within its Anglo-cultural context, it turned to the “Enlightenment” tradition of thinking things through from first “rational” principles.

Brother Ivo deliberately began his piece by describing the decision of the Court as a choice. It plainly was. There was nothing which compelled the Court to change the law. It could easily have re-affirmed the existing law and retained the requirements which previously needed to be met to qualify for religious status. These had been defined by Lord Denning in an earlier decision which laid down that an important feature of a religion was belief in a Supreme Being.

“Turning to the creed of the Church of Scientology, I must say that it seems to me to be more a philosophy of the existence of man or of life, rather than a religion. Religious worship means reverence or veneration of God or of a Supreme Being. I do not find any such reverence or veneration in the creed of this church. … When I look through the ceremonies and the affidavits, I am left with the feeling that there is nothing in it of reverence for God or a deity, but simply instruction in a philosophy. There may be belief in a spirit of man, but there is no belief in a spirit of God.”

Plainly our Supreme Court prioritises abstract “Equality” over culturally derived ways of doing things, however pragmatically successful most of us might judge those ways to be. It must also be said that the English culture has not proved so offensive that others have been dissuaded from coming and settling within it the better  to enjoy the benefits of  tolerant values found here.

There have been many fugitives from “rational” legal systems reasoned from abstract principles, but by and large, there is a paucity of evidence of outraged victims fleeing the oppressive judicial values of the Anglo-sphere.

There has always been a steady stream fleeing from the “enlightened” “rational” laws of the  French and Russian revolutions and we still see  modern examples of legal and political systems “reasoned” by radicals.  Many victims of inhumane “reason” have sought the protection of “irrational” British cultural decency, and still they come from the sympathetic dissident to the worst religions zealot and war criminal.

Why we should be so keen to jettison the principles that might regulate such entries, in favour of  “modern rationalities” that admit them seems absurd, but Brother Ivo digresses.

The Scientology case is but part of a juristic trend that seems to be advancing without much popular thought being given to it.

Do we want our Judges to legislate?

How far should we let them go?

Is it right that there should be a class of legislator who can not only delay change ( which is all our House of Lords can effectively do) but actively initiate it?

The Scientology case was fought out partly with an eye upon the fiscal consequences. His Grace highlights that this was the subtext of the dispute. Are we happy to have legislators who have no interest or accountability when they make law or enact policy change with massive fiscal implications?

When the Court attacked the Government policy of imprisoning dangerous men whom the Court would not deport, the Judges were able to only substitute its judgement for that of the elected Parliament, but also to impose the costs of a 24 hour surveillance exercise without giving a moments thought to the economies that might have to be made elsewhere.

Are we comfortable with this?

This is not of course a purely British phenomenon. In the US Supreme Court Judges have been very activist. They drove some of the Civil Rights reforms  but also tortured the Constitution to declare abortion to have been in the minds of the founding fathers when they drafted it. We all know that that those founding fathers would have considered it a crime against God and humanity, but the sophisticated jurist is comfortable with “legal fictions ” of this kind.

The consequences of that decision is that America has been cursed with culture wars for over 50 years thereafter. Whatever one thinks of the issue, the British way of legislating it openly and properly.  settled it quickly,  whereas by taking the US route of judicial activism, much social division resulted.

This should be an awful warning to us.

Our Supreme Court judges appear wish to emulate their US counterparts and have adopted both the name and the penchant for group photographs. If they do see themselves in such a light,  then surely they must accept the US corollary of submitting themselves, their records, their attitudes, their politics and and their beliefs to public confirmation sessions conducted in Parliament.

If Brother Ivo is to be subjected to laws enacted by an unelected and unaccountable coterie of judicial legislators , he wants us all to know exactly what kind of person they are and what we are letting ourselves in for before they are appointed.

The everyday cruelty of child protection law

Brother Ivo has very little time for Karl Marx, yet one of the few sound observations he made was to the effect that if the ordinary person  had to slaughter and butcher their own meat there would be many more vegetarians.

Most of us are pleased to live a sanitised life, away from such realities. We are pleased that someone else is willing to manage the sewers, attend the road accidents, look after the demented elderly, and prepare the dead for burial, but most of us are quietly pleased that much that might affront our sensibilities remains “out of sight out of mind”.

From time to time the realities of such necessary unpleasantries are brought to our attention and when we encounter these truths they usually come as a shock.

There is a public outcry when a story breaks of  the safeguarding systems of a care home breaking down;  we wring our hands when public service re-organisations  bring a story to light highlighting the difficult consequences of difficult decisions,  but it is only then that we allow such matters to enter our conscious thought. We normally prefer not to look or to ask.

In recent weeks, the world of Child Protection hit the news headlines again with the tragic story of an Italian lady whose mental health fragility resulted in the Court of Protection authorising a Caesarian section delivery of her baby and a separate Family Court concluding that the child was at risk of “significant harm” so that the child’s long term needs were best met by adoption.

The story acquired traction. There was much speculation and comment, some of it intelligent balanced and informed, much of it however was less so.

Brother Ivo does not intend to add to the commentary on the individual case, save to  point readers attention to the judgements respectively of Mr Justice Mostyn , who dealt with the application to permit the caesarian delivery  together with His Honour Judge Newton’s County Court judgment , relating to the care and adoption proceedings

If one wishes to have an in depth analysis of the issues, the excellent Head of Legal Blog, which gives both a blow by blow account of the history and an informed commentary upon the lengthy history which has been commended for its accuracy by one of the Queen’s Counselsengaged in the case.

There was one striking comment made upon that blog in relation to the decision to authorise the Caesarian. It came from a lady who herself suffered similar mental illness

She wrote touchingly

As a mother with bipolar disorder who has suffered from paranoid delusions I have been horrified by the coverage of this case. To go through labour while paranoid and psychotic, unable to understand either why you are in pain or that the people around you are trying to help, would quite literally be one of the most dreadful experiences that I can imagine, and if this woman was that ill a caesarian would absolutely be the only humane way to proceed.

There seems to be a general refusal, particularly in the liberal press and blogosphere, to accept that really serious mental illness and a consequent lack of capacity exists any more, a belief that everything can be done by consent and that anything else is merely prejudice against the mentally unwell. It’s an understandable backlash against the time when we were routinely denied our rights but it does those of us who occasionally really cannot make decisions for ourselves no favours. In this case it seems from the limited information supplied that the court was definitely the appropriate places for the issue to be raised and a decision to be made in light of medical advice.

Such honesty and informed opinion is what we need to hear when such issues are discussed in the public domain.

It is HH Judge Newton’s judgement which draws Brother Ivo’s attention.

In it,  the Judge effectively describes a typical case of this kind. This mother is scarcely different from many others whose family circumstances are brought before the Courts. If you have not seen such a document it should prove instructive as to how such matters are dealt with.

The Judge is kindly towards the mother – even as he takes terrible decisions for her life. Plainly she  was never a bad person or intentionally cruel. Her circumstances were carefully investigated and the judge accepted that the problems with which she battled would not be overcome quickly. It is a scenario played out in Courts up and down the land every day and yet most do most attract the kind of  interest the headline writers showed in this instance.

The mother had two other children, both of whom were cared for by her own mother, so she seemed to have an uphill task once the analysis of her shortcomings came to be undertaken remorselessly by the agents of State. As is frequently the case with a newborn, the Judge’s attention was  drawn to the importance to settle the baby’s future quickly,  so that the all important bonding process could  begin and a secure attachment be made as early as possible. Children who do not bond successfully are known to disproportionately become the failing parents of the next decades.

Faced with this, it was very hard for mother to secure the time she needed to attempt to prove herself. She said everything that she could. She was a sympathetic and honest witness. Many are.

What the case illustrates is the commonplace, everyday cruelty of most Child Protection cases.

It is so very easy for the public to stand on the side of the child against the brute. In those cases the social worker and police are seen as heroic, and woe betide any who is dilatory with the removal. Yet these are the minority of cases. They are the easy ones – the “no-brainers”.

What is altogether less comfortable, is contemplating the pain of the majority of these parents.

Some are mentally ill, some have learning disabilities, some suffer personality disorders arising out of similarly disrupted childhoods. Others may have fallen into addiction and bear some responsibility, yet the pain they suffer is no less real and raw, and the consequences seem wholly disproportionate to them. Often they know others in their locality in no better circumstances,  and unsurprisingly, they struggle to understand why this misfortune befell  them rather than the household down the road.

What is particularly distressing is that the timeframe for change in such families has been shortened.

As part of the perfectly proper concern to avoid decisions being excessively delayed, all cases are being monitored to ensure that they comply with an arbitrary protocol time limit of 26 weeks. Most cases must now be finalised that quickly. Few experts in addiction, or mental illness or learning disability will ever testify that deep seated problems can be adequately tested,  much less reliably resolved, within such short time frames. It can take three months to secure authorisation for the payment for a single drugs or alcohol test and several are needed.

Were our society braver or more honest, we should be telling all addicts, all those with vulnerability or inadequacy that we are cutting them adrift from hope whenever they stumble into the cross hairs of judgemental Social Services. We do not dare to do so,  for to do that would be painful to ourselves: it would reduce ourselves in our own liberal estimations.

So we will, in all probability , continue on this present path, not wishing to abandon hope for the failing family, nor yet being willing to  make a commitment to effect change for them.

The hurting of families, is like the butchering of our Sunday joint:  it is simply best not thought about, especially as we approach Christmas.

The short truth is that it is very easy to tear families apart. One is rarely criticised for making the obvious protective decision. It is, however, possible to effect change,  but that depends upon time being granted, resources being committed  and thorough and experienced advocates, social workers and experts working towards a common purpose.

None of this is deemed currently affordable.

There is an element of experiment in all such attempts, and a natural concern to shield the children from over optimistic or sentimental efforts to support the parents.

Before this current regime was introduced there were, nevertheless many stories of unlikely successes.

Brother Ivo knows of one young family whose mother had learning difficulties and where the father suffered intermittent mental illness which was sometimes medically controlled, but when not, resulted in worrying hallucinations. His dogged and aggressive legal team would not surrender early ( something which the present Legal Aid remuneration package discourages).

By chance, the family’s plight came to the notice of an 80 year old retired solicitor who met the children’s grandmother through their church. This Good Samaritan made an unexpected and game-changing offer. He would help Social Services by visiting  the family every morning on his way to communion to ensure that the children were up, breakfasted and ready for school, and return in the evening so that he could read to the children whilst mother cooked the evening meal. The mother was practically competent but needed monitoring especially if the father was having a bad day.

He could also check that father’s symptoms were not deteriorating.

Social Services had run out of patience and were resolved to bring an end to rehabilitative efforts .

The Judge was ready to give it “one last try”, against the advice of several of the “experts” all of whom were giving not unreasonable regard to the children’s need to be settles elsewhere sooner rather than later if the parents just could not cope.

The Judge was willing to test  the viability of the scheme way beyond the time frames  that will now be be permitted by the Ministry of Justice. Fewer Judges today will be willing to blot their copybooks by routinely ignoring the protocol time limits.

Importantly, during his visits, the elderly gentleman learned that, like many with his condition, the father over estimated his recovery when feeling well, and was relapsing because he did not always  take his medication as  directed. Once identified, the problem was successfully addressed: the children remained in their family even after their benefactor passed away. May God rest his soul.

Such outcomes cannot be prescribed. They arise almost providentially,  but the time was won by lawyers who would not throw in the towel and walk away from the  weak and the failing. No protocol can develop creative thought, such as accepted by this Judge, although the tick box culture can easily stifle it.

Such happy outcomes will become a rarer event as Child Protection is moved out of the discretion of wise and sensitive judges and onto an administrative conveyor belt where the protocol pathway will wrangle poor parents to an inevitable end result.

The bureaucrats have studied, costed, measured and dictated. They took everything into account except perhaps Exodus Ch 23 v 5

“You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his suit.




Welcome to the Tumbrel!


Brother Ivo first joined the world of the blog when he was invited to contribute to the cyber-pulpit of Archbishop Cranmer, where he has written on an eclectic range of topical issues for the past year.

He will alway be grateful to His Grace for his patience, generosity, and encouragement. It is however time to relieve him of the obligations of editorial responsibility and to extend the opportunities of the virtual consumer by offering another outlet for independent thought.

Brother Ivo has learnt much from the new media and is indebted to many of its leading exponents for their stimulating and original ideas. The best are not always the best known, but that is part of the attraction. Whilst thinking about those whom he reads regularly, it became apparent that this ought to be the subject for this first post.

Archbishop Cranmer is the High Tory Constitutionalist. One will always go to him for a well grounded perspective on issues of the day, and a carefully constructed analysis of matters relating to Parliament, the Church of England, the values of Monarchy and a full appreciation of the subtlety of the British Constitutional settlement.

Brother Ivo is indebted to Douglas Carswell for his original ideas about the possibilities of the new social media for improvements to our democracy. His book “The End of Politics and the birth of I-Democracy” celebrates the fact that the news agenda is no longer controlled by a coterie of News Editors in the mainstream press. He offers a framework to encourage our thinking  about how we can use our technological liberties for the good of our neighbours and the protection of our freedoms. Whilst a party politician, he is not only a party politician and that is why Brother Ivo finds him interesting.

Thomas Sowell is a remarkable black American academic and commentator. His career has great similarity to that of President Obama except he did it first,and is an unashamed conservative who asks sharp questions like “What exactly is your fair share of that which someone else worked hard to create?” He is the voice of responsibility and merit based equality but is not well known in the United Kingdom. If you are unfamiliar with him you are in for an intellectual treat – and challenge.

Guido Fawkes is the naughty boy, the joker in the pack; and yet every oyster needs the introduction of grit before a pearl is produced. Pearls of wisdom require a similar stimulus. Guido is not always wise, but he is always stimulating. The complacent, the hypocritical, the opportunist and the manufactured politician cannot sleep easy in their beds whilst Guido and his motley crew are around and so, like the vultures who keep the plains of Africa sanitised, we ought to recognise a place in the ecology of the internet for that which is necessary, even when it sometimes presents an image of grossness.

Ann Coulter is a feisty and aggressive columnist who will set the blood racing with either exhilaration or apoplexy. She enjoys applying Saul Alinsky’s approach of ridiculing opponents to ridicule Saul Alinsky followers – and they really don’t like it very much!  She is an acquired taste, more chilli than vanilla, but for anyone raised on the humour of the BBC’s “News Quiz” and “Now Show” she will prove an interesting and challenging culture shock.

On the other side of the Cyber Universe one finds the more amiable blogs of Nick Baines, Gillan Scott’s “God and Politics” and  Digitalnun D Catherine Wybourne.

Bishop Nick offers the human face of God’s bureaucrats, but more importantly he does not shy from theological complexity or the frailty of all humanity. He constantly reminds us of the Church’s international perspectives. He is generally sound when he strays into matters related to music, he is less so on the subject of football.

“God and Politics” is a go-to site for Anglicans and can be relied upon to examine current affairs from a balanced thorough and broad religious viewpoint. One of Brother Ivo’s great influences was a priest who taught that the Church of England is like a three strand rope, Catholic, Liberal and Evangelical, and that it would be weakened by the loss of any one of those components. The “God and Politics blog” exemplifies that approach as it sifts through the news and controversies of the day.

Digitalnun D. Catherine Wybourne presents  Brother Ivo’s with one of his much loved paradoxes.

She is, at one level, removed from the world and its priorities, whilst on another level, totally engaged both intellectually and practically, for it is as an IT provider that she has done much to help Brother Ivo begin his venture. Many thanks are offered for her professional advice – which is recommended!

No greater thanks are due to her, however, than for a constant internet presence reminding us that our daily concerns, outrages, anxieties and opinions are set within a greater whole, and that we are called to be better than our excitable topical comments usually reveal.

There are many others whom he might have referenced, but as Brother Ivo distilled the essence of those to whose to whose qualities he might wish to aspire, he thought a minimalist approach best in an opening post.

This is no Oscar speech; no Oscar has been won.

These bloggers, whom Brother Ivo consults on a daily basis, meet the criteria for anyone searching the internet looking for an interesting read and a refreshing perspective. They are all original, and above all counter cultural.

Nobody writes their talking points for them, they follow no strict party line. They are frequently unpredictable and thus intellectually stimulating, and what more can one ask?.

Their collective presence might make for a lively dinner party, but that is not why Brother Ivo seeks to join them, bringing his own life experiences and reflections to the party.

What moves him to emulation is a desire to help his readers make sense of what is going on in the world and above all to think outside of the commonplace cultural box.

That is the quality which seems to unite all those whose work in this genre he admires.

Seeking a unifying test by which to define those with whom he currently associates through this medium, it eventually came to him in a modest “eureka moment”.

We would all, almost certainly, have been guillotined during the French Revolution!

If you might be willing to risk similar disfavour in our modern world of over confident “rational” secularism, then you might consider adding Brother Ivo to your regular reading list.

If you do – ‘Welcome to the tumbrel”.