Arches Court

Date01 August 1992
DOI10.1177/002201839205600301
Publication Date01 August 1992
SubjectArches Court
ARCHES
COURT
BIAS AND
THE
APPEARANCE
OF BIAS
Burridge v Taylor
As it is by no means rare for objection to be taken to justices on the
ground that they are biased or at least appear to be biased, the decision of
the Arches Court of Canterbury in Burridge vTaylor [1992] 1 All
ER
437
is of interest beyond its ecclesiastical setting, particularly as it demon-
strates how easy it is for laymen, with the best will in the world, to take a
view of bias or the appearance of bias which is likely to be quite different
from that of lawyers, even though the same test was applied in this case as
is applied in relation to justices. The complaint in that case was against a
parish priest who faced five charges of conduct unbecoming the office and
work of a clerk in holy orders, namely adultery with two women who
were within his cure of souls. A canon, who was a friend of the accused
and of one of the women, visited the accused (on what he later described
as a pastoral visit). That visit was unknown to the promoter of the
complaint or to the accused's legal adviser or to the registrar. He
discussed the evidence with the accused and suspended judgment; but on
asecond visit he formed apreliminary view adverse to the accused. At
the ballot for assessors, the canon was chosen. The accused (on legal
advice) was not at the ballot and, when he was informed (by the canon)
of the canon's appointment, he accepted it, apparently as meaning that he
had perhaps a friend at court, for the canon did not reveal that he had at
the second meeting formed an opinion unfavourable to the accused. The
canon later stated that he had (after prayer) convinced himself that he
should not withdraw, as he had no bias against the accused and had no
more than asympathetic interest in the matter, as he knew the parish
well. The accused was unanimously convicted by the chancellor and the
assessors.
The Arches Court applied to this situation the test which is applied in
the case of justices: would a reasonable and fair-minded person sitting in
court and knowing that an assessor had behaved as the canon had
behaved before the trial, have considered that a fair assessment and a fair
trial was not possible? The court also considered asecond
question-
whether there was evidence from which it could properly be inferred that
the accused might have been prejudiced or might not have received a
proper
trial. On both grounds, the court held that the appeal must be
allowed; but, as there was still a dispute, the case was remitted to the
consistory court to be re-tried (before, it was suggested, fresh, indepen-
dent assessors). The court indicated that for the future the registrar
should in all cases inform any assessor of the names and identity of the
accused and of any witnesses and inquire of any acquaintance which he
might have with them. This, it might seem, is a cautionary step which
could with profit be taken in any court in which lay assessors or judges sit.
199

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