Legal Representations

I’ve had all weekend to think about the statement that the Bishop of Winchester made last week on the Steel Report.

For those who need reminding, this is the really interesting paragraph.

“I have received legal representations from an interested party requiring me to undertake not to release the report to any person.  On legal advice I have agreed to comply with the request and this means that I am currently unable to publish the report or provide further information about the representations that have been made.”

Now there’s a really interesting word in there – requiring. The Bishop claims the legal representations require him to undertake not to release the report. However, in the next sentence he says he has agreed to comply with the request.

Hmmmmm……

Judge's Wig and GavelWhich is it? Is the legal representation something that has the force of law, backed up by a court? This would definitely be something that required the Bishop to reserve publishing the Steel Report. This would take the form of an injunction of some other kind of order of court. If this were the case then all the Diocese needs to do is point us to the injunction (it would have to be lodged with a court and been approved by a judge) and all would be well and good.

But I suspect that given the wording of the Bishop’s statement there is no injunction. So what has been sent to the Bishop is very likely of the manner of a cease and desist letter. A cease and desist simply says that if the recipient continues with a course of action (or undertakes a future course of action) then the sender will take further action. The action can be specified or simply left vague. The crucial point though is that a cease and desist has no legal force in and of itself. It does not obligate the recipient to do anything if they do not want to. Sometimes cease and desist letters are used merely to intimidate the recipient.

So most likely the Bishop received a cease and desist, but from whom? Well, let’s try and narrow down the suspects. It must have been someone who is involved in the Steel Report and it must be because there is something in the Steel Report that they do not like. Who might that be and what might the dislike take the form of?

We can pretty well rule out anyone on Jersey. In his interview with BBC Jersey, the Dean Bob Key stated that he looked forward to the original Terms of the Steel Report (that he and the Bailiff would receive a copy) being fulfilled. It’s a conspiracy theory too far that either he or the Bailiff are trying to prevent the Steel Report being released, especially since the Bishop states that no charges are going to be laid against anyone on the Island. Why try to stop something that you want out in the open.

So we are left with the other three key players in the original Korris Report – HG herself, Jane Fisher the Safeguarding Officer for Winchester Diocese and Jan Korris herself. With the greatest of respect to her, HG has neither the legal nous or the competence to begin to write such a request (and she is currently blogging prolifically about anything and everything and hasn’t mentioned this once despite issuing “legal letters” to the Bishop) so we can rule her out. As for Jane Fisher, if she felt something in the Steel Report impugned her then surely the Diocese would act on her behalf? If not then she would be acting against the Diocese whilst working for the Diocese – I’m not sure how such a position is tenable and to the best of my knowledge Jane Fisher put in a normal day’s work today in her capacity as Diocesan Director of Safeguarding.

Jan KorrisSo we are left with Jan Korris.

Let me posit a scenario for you all to consider. In this scenario Dame Heather Steel has written a report that clears the Dean of any wrong-doing. It says that far from him having made mistakes, willful and unconsciously, instead he actually did everything that was expected of him under the safeguarding guidelines that were in operation at the time. Indeed, in this scenario the Dean can clearly document this. This leaves Jan Korris in a tricky position, because such a report from Dame Steel undermines Korris’ own document in a very embarrassing manner. It implies that she didn’t do her job properly because if she had then she would have come to the same conclusion as Dame Steel.

In this scenario, what would you do if you were Jan Korris? If the Steel Report is published it will damage Korris’ professional reputation – a high court judge versus a therapist? No contest sadly. So to prevent the report being published Korris threatens legal action. The Bishop withholds publication, but on what grounds? Well whatever they are he’s not sharing them with us.

Let’s play this scenario out a bit further though – to delay publication at the request of Korris is to imply that Dame Steel got something wrong in the report. Really? A High Court judge making mistakes in such a vital document? Who’s going to be the one to tell her that? Who’s going to be the one who demands she rewrites a section? Will Dame Steel even let that happen?

And one final thought – does this mean that Korris has seen a copy of the Steel Report already? Why would she get to see a copy before the Dean of Jersey? Indeed, why would she get to see a copy before HG? If the report should go to those affected, why not HG? Why not the Dean? And what does Dame Steel have to say about all this? Did she even get a say in who would be privileged to read her report before the named individuals in her Terms of Reference? I would love to conduct that interview. You know where to find me My Lady.

Months ago I wrote that this whole affair was going to be a disaster for the Church of England. Now half a year later as we find ourselves immersed in legal shenanigans and less clarity than the bottom of a milk bottle smeared in black treacle, one wonders whether safeguarding and transparency have been utterly surrendered on the altar of political expediency. Seriously, if I were the Bishop of Winchester I’d be regretting ever getting involved in Jersey in the first place. This whole thing is turning into a disaster of epic proportions and not even a huge smouldering vat of quintessential Anglican fudge is going to hold it together much longer.

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  • Wolf Paul

    Of course you are not the bishop — and don’t you think the bishop is going to feel that if this turns into “a disaster of epic proportions” then a good portion of the blame rests with bloggers like yourself who don’t just let him sweep it under the rug? :-)
    Not that I blame you — just trying to imagine how the bishop might feel about things.

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. One day the CofE will wake up and realise they can have these talents on the inside.

  • HarryJM

    Interesting link to the HB blog, especially as it gives us the chance of making our own opinion of HB’s state of mind rather than having to rely on the reports of others. Seems clear that HB didn’t ask for the injunction though – interesting! I could understand the Bishop not wanting it to be published if she had asked.

  • HarryJM

    “We can pretty well rule out anyone on Jersey” Another scenario: Someone, possibly on Jersey, has been a naughty boy, but he/she didn’t mean to be and the hitherto unclear legal framework has now been clarified. As it wasn’t intentional we are not going to take any disciplinary action but we don’t want to admit that the legalities weren’t clear either.

  • Martin Reynolds

    Peter’s speculation gives the very best reason TO PUBLISH!

    His blog entries on this topic have been very informative but now he has nowhere to go and in this situation just about everyone looks dirty. I am sure that this will inspire some of those involved to press very hard to see this report published.

    As he says, if the report is critical of someone who has played some part in the process then, surely that is why it was commissioned, it must be published.

    I have argued elsewhere that the previous bishop also has a dog in this fight, does his omission from Peter’s cast of likely suspects mean that this is not likely?
    In the end, it has to be someone who has seen some part of the report, or been advised of its findings. If there are draft reports out there then it is likely it will come to light.

    There is a sort of compromise that might actually work in this scenario. Publish in part now and in full at some future date. I would not find this satisfying, and I bet Peter would complain too, but I guess it might shut most of us down!

    • Martin Reynolds

      Though I find it completely unbelievable that the Korris Report should remain advertised and available anywhere if the unpublished Steel report in any way calls its methodology or conclusions into question.

      We would have the very worst of situations where a deeply flawed report remains available and those who are judged harshly are not publicly vindicated.

      If the Steel Report does question Korris it must be taken down and every attempt made to eradicate it.

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