Faith and reason: Theatrical trials of an ecclesiastical court

An outdated law was applied this week at the last ever session of the traditional consistory court. Andrew Brown was there to witness why charity and justice make poor bedfellows

What a delight to discover that the Church of England has got something right! The trial last Thursday of the Rev Edward Glover for - as the Sun had put it - revving up a parishioner with a bonk in his Volvo would have convinced anyone that the traditional consistory court system is a disaster, and that the reforms proposed by Canon Alan Hawker's working party really are reforms, and not just changes.

The trial itself was pure theatre. It was held in the 13th-century throne room at Bishop Auckland, a room in which not just the windows, but even the doors are pointed at the top. Thirty or forty prince bishops looked down from the walls at twenty journalists, two members of the public, and five observers who had some business there: one man had come from North Wales, where another trial on a similar charge is due; a magistrate who had sat on the Hawker commission had come to watch; one woman had come to to represent the interests of Mrs Orpen, the poor lunatic who had brought all this about.

The judge's title crammed more pomp before his name than you would have thought possible. He was the Worshipful, the Rev Canon Rupert Bursell QC, seated on the Bishop's throne beneath the arms of the palatinate, a sword crossed with a shepherds crook to show that even our ancestors appreciated the importance of keeping out the Scots.

He spoke with enormous care and scrupulousness. All he did was to explain why he was allowing the prosecution to withdraw its case. As a judge, he might have wanted to apportion blame; as a Christian, he seems to have felt this wrong. The evidence he walked the lawyers through made it quite clear that Mrs Orpen was a mentally ill woman who had perjured herself at least once in her pursuit of Mr Glover. These facts had not been hard to establish. She claimed he had made her pregnant: enquiries at the hospital revealed not only that she had never been pregnant at the time in question, but that she had been told so at the time. This had no effect on her beliefs. A further psychiatric enquiry showed that she was suffering from a delusional disease, which the judge was too kind-hearted to specify.

In fact he was kindness to a fault. No one, in anything he said, could be blamed for anything. The Sun, which first published her complaints, was not, he said, to be blamed in any way. Really? If the same allegations had been brought against a politician, or a newspaper owner, or even a doctor, would they not have been checked a little more thoroughly? Every journalist has to deal with lunatics; and I like to think that journalists who write about religion have to deal with more than their fair share. Surely they are not that hard to spot.

Equally, the Judge said, no blame could be attached to the Bishop, nor to his "examiner", the official who concluded that there was a prima-facie case to answer. And it is true that the prosecutor in the case, Canon Michael Perry, hugged Mr Glover after his acquittal and Mr Glover appeared to hug him back. But, we were told by Mr Glover's counsel as she rehearsed her reasons for not pressing on with the case, grave discrepancies in Mrs Orpen's evidence had emerged even at the stage of the preliminary examination.

The judge and the defence both accepted that the prosecution had behaved correctly. Indeed, by sharing experts with the defence, so far as possible, they had collaborated to keep the costs of the show down. Even so, it is difficult to believe that there are not in other dioceses other bishops and other examiners who would never have let the case get that far.

The Hawker Comission aims to eliminate all such inconsistencies. There will be a single, national system, independent of diocesan quirks. It will also eliminate one of the oddest features of last week's trial: the fact that the prosecution could not, in law, withdraw its case before the trial started, even though the expert evidence obtained as soon as they started to research the case had blown it up months ago. Under the new system, the expert examination would be made before the decision to prosecute.

Still, the trial was not a wholly ignominious end to the ecclesiastical jurisdiction measure. The ponderous drama of the law was, in the end, successful. It is in fact pleasing that the last trial of a clergyman for adultery under the old law should have ended without either whimper - or bang.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker