Regulator orders Oxford College to enter mediation with Dean

29 Jun 2020 News

Christ Church Cathedral Interior

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

The Charity Commission has told both sides in the dispute at Christ Church, Oxford, to enter into a mediation process.

The Commission said it is concerned that the “very protracted and public dispute between the College’s governing body and its Dean is damaging to the reputation of the charity, and affecting its ability to govern itself”.

Both parties in this dispute had called on the Charity Commission to intervene further.

Christ Church college has been involved with a dispute with the Very Reverend Martyn Percy after he was suspended in November 2018 for alleged misconduct. He returned to work after an internal tribunal.

Accounts for 31 July 2019 put its income at around £34m and spending closer to £38m.

In a letter seen by The Telegraph, academics had called for the Dean to be dismissed, accusing him of “unsound judgment” and “consistent lack of moral compass”.

It called on the Charity Commission to help remove him from the board of trustees.

The letter claimed he has “hampered the day to-day-day operations of the institution” and that “he is not fit to remain a trustee”.

The regulator has told both parties that it expects them to enter into formal mediation within a limited time frame, with a mediator selected by the Commission.

It added that the “situation risks harming the reputation of charity more generally, in the eyes of the public”.

‘It is not our job, as charity regulator, to referee disputes’

Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the Charity Commission, said: “It is not our job, as charity regulator, to referee disputes. Our role is, instead, to ensure that charities are governed effectively, charitable funds are properly accounted for, and trust in charity is maintained. In these exceptional circumstances, we have told the parties to the dispute to enter mediation, without which it is difficult to resolve issues in the charity in any reasonable timescale.”

The Commission will not comment further on the case until the mediation has been completed. It has also asked both sides to refrain from public, or private, commentary whilst the mediation process takes place.

A statement from Christ Church states that it is “delighted” that the regulator has “now agreed to intervene”.

The statement reads: “The ongoing dispute between Christ Church and the Dean has undoubtedly gone on for far too long. Its impact on Christ Church’s daily life, its staff, students, teaching and research, all risk being affected without the prospect of a resolution. We were therefore delighted to learn at our meeting with the Charity Commission today that it has now agreed to intervene. 

“For some time, we have sought to address the impasse through independent mediation, but that process was unfortunately put on hold earlier this year. We hope that the Dean responds quickly and positively to the Commission’s announcement and we look forward to attending the mediation it is facilitating as soon as possible.”

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