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Fairness and justice at the heart of Church law

In its report to the General Assembly, the Legal Questions Committee will propose several amendments to various laws of the Church.

Six years ago, the Church adopted a system of disciplinary process which made it much easier for presbyteries to ensure compliance with the principles of human rights legislation. The Church’s measure (Act III of 2001) describes the entire process from initial complaint to final appeal, and has been used eight times over these six years, to deal with a variety of situations. This year some small adjustments have been made to the appeals element of the process. The most important of them is the introduction of the right to appeal against the severity of a censure passed, even where there is no technical point of law at issue.

The report continues with a further proposal relating to Act III (2001) which calls into question the recent very high level of expenses incurred by individuals and met by the Church for the provision of legal representation during disciplinary hearings. The Church is committed to facilitating justice in the proceedings of its courts, and believes in the automatic right of parties to the services of a solicitor and, in more complex cases, of counsel. The Church will therefore continue to meet the cost of such legal representation during disciplinary hearings. The committee proposes that the scale of charges should be at the Sheriff Court civil scale and be limited only to the expenses that are necessary to enable the party to conduct the litigation. Under the new rules, permission will be needed before counsel can be engaged at the Church’s expense.

The committee report highlights the fact that the ordination of women was enabled by two acts of the General Assembly, in 1966 (for the eldership) and 1968 (for the ministry of Word and Sacrament). Recent concerns, that the spirit of this legislation has not been respected, have prompted the Committee to clarify the issue by reiterating the unambiguous position adopted by the General Assembly 16 years ago (on the 25th anniversary of the passing of the first of those acts). The committee brings to the attention of the Assembly its recent partnership with the Ministries Council relating to discrimination, including on the grounds of gender (see press release on the joint report on these matters).

In conclusion the reports highlights that the Rev Ann Inglis completes her term as the convener of the Legal Questions Committee at this Assembly. The committee recognises that her diligent and conscientious service has enabled it to be true to its remit in offering the best advice to the General Assembly on questions of Church law and the relationship between the Church and state.

• Full story at the Church of Scotland.

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