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Church to extend protection for its members

The Ministries Council and the Legal Questions Committee will present their joint report to the General Assembly. It will detail the findings of the Working Group of the Ministries Council and Legal Questions Committee. Since being established last year, the Working Group has been examining questions relating to the equivalence of protection offered by the Church to its ministers and others, in comparison with the rights of employees and others in civil law.

The Working Group believes that it has always lain within the common law powers of the courts of the Church to take action in circumstances in which any minister, employee, office-bearer or member of the Church is subjected to bullying or discrimination. The Ministries Council and Legal Questions Committee will ask the General Assembly to pass two acts relating to bullying and discrimination.

The first of the two acts proposes to tackle bullying and will provide a means by which the courts of the Church can take up an allegation against a court, committee or individual, investigate it and resolve it. The second act seeks to combat discrimination where it is perpetrated by or in the name of any agencies of the Church.

The new legislation does not remove presbyteries’ powers and intends to add to their powers in just one respect, in that they may impose financial sanctions upon courts and committees (e.g. kirk sessions) where discrimination has taken place. This extension of power is being presented as an overture under the Barrier Act and the Assembly will be asked to transmit this to presbyteries with returns to be received by 31 December 2007. Nor do the acts seek to replicate civil law remedies. The legislation sets out to emphasise the powers that are already in place.

The Working Group will report that the Church is privileged to have a large number of office-bearers who willingly give their time and talents to further its work. The majority of these people would never indulge in acts of bullying or harassment. The Working Group is aware, however, of experiences where such unacceptable behaviour has caused distress and disruption to individuals and congregations.

• Full story at the Church of Scotland.

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