Governance changes at Oxford college urged after £6.6m dispute with former dean

18 May 2023 News

Christ Church Cathedral Interior

David Iliff, Wikimedia Commons, License: CC BY-SA 3.0

An independent review of one of Oxford University’s largest colleges has recommended governance changes after a £6.6m dispute with a former dean.

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve’s review of the governance of Christ Church states it should consider recruiting its head from outside the clergy.

Grieve recommended the college’s statutes should be amended to allow a dean to be appointed “without that restriction of that person being a clerk in holy orders”.

The review states that if Christ Church wishes to retain the existing structure of the charity trustees being identical with the members of the governing body, then both the level of attendance at the governing body must be high and all members as charity trustees must receive proper training, the review adds.

These proposals come after a several years long dispute with former dean Martyn Percy that cost the college £6.6m in legal and public relations fees.

Sparked by his request for a higher salary in 2017, the dispute evolved into a complex legal battle, and Percy was accused of sexual harassment, which he denies. 

Grieve said the dispute with Percy had “placed great strain on the existing system of governance” and “caused damage to Christ Church’s reputation”.

A statement on Christ Church’s website reads now that the review is complete, the governing body will consider its conclusions and the changes necessary to ensure that Christ Church has an effective system of governance in place. 

It adds implementing these reforms will require consultation with the university, the Church of England, and the Charity Commission, and the approval of the Privy Council and Parliament.

Commission ‘will be monitoring Christ Church’s progress’

The Charity Commission issued an official warning to Christ Church in November last year. 

Two years earlier, the Commission had told the college’s governing body and Percy to enter into a mediation process, adding that any regulatory intervention would be effective only if both parties had stable relationships. 

The regulator then found that the trustees did not follow advice it gave them between 2019 and 2020 to keep “close oversight of costs”, which led to its official warning.  

It found that between August 2018 and January 2022 Christ Church spent more than £6.6m on legal and public relations fees in a range of actions connected to Percy, of which over £5.3m were approved posteriorly.

A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “We welcome the publication of Dominic Grieve’s findings and recommendations. 

“Our official warning to Christ Church was clear that an independent governance review was necessary, and that the trustees should take all reasonable steps to implement its recommendations. We expect this now to happen, and will be monitoring Christ Church’s progress in this matter.” 

For more news, interviews, opinion and analysis about charities and the voluntary sector, sign up to receive the free Civil Society daily news bulletin here.


More on