Review of Judicial Code Ready for Synod 2024

Review of Judicial Code Ready for Synod 2024

Posted 05/08/2024
Alissa Vernon

At its May meeting the Council of Delegates of the Christian Reformed Church received a report from a team reviewing the denomination’s judicial code, the procedure set out in Church Order to be followed in cases of dispute over decisions of the assemblies of the church. The report recommends one addition to the list of entities who may file a written charge, clarification of what is to be confidential, altering the burden of proof from a “high probability” standard to “reasonable certainty” standard, and four other clarifying fixes along with several edits to single words or phrases.

Synod 2019 called for the review as part of the actions it took to respond better and do more to prevent instances of abuse of power. The review team got under way in 2023 and now the Council of Delegates is forwarding its report for adoption by Synod 2024.

The committee refers to their work as “tuning, rather than an overhaul” of the judicial code, noting “the work of a former Task Force to Review the Judicial Code which reported to Synod 2014 made many good revisions … which were followed up by a few more revisions in 2015 (Agenda for Synod 2014, p. 72-84; Acts of Synod 2014, p. 569-70; Agenda for Synod 2015, p. 107-111; Acts of Synod 2015, p. 627).” For the 11-page code with nine sections, the review team suggests just seven substantial changes.

Here’s what synod will consider:

  • Add the following to the list of entities who may file a written charge: “a member who has been suspended by a consistory, or a person who has been excluded from membership by a consistory."
  • Give the presiding officer “discretion to determine the manner in which witnesses will be questioned” (e.g. “that the questioning of a witness will be done by a person other than the complainant or respondent”).
  • Change the current judicial code’s “high probability” standard for burden of proof to one of "reasonable certainty," which “means that you are persuaded based upon a rational consideration of the evidence. Absolute certainty is not required, but a guess is not enough to meet the burden of proof.”
  • Clarify that recusal requirements (“persons that have voted on a matter in an assembly shall recuse themselves from participating in the appeal”) “apply equally to participants in prior Judicial Code proceedings and Safe Church proceedings.”
  • Clarify what is to be confidential in written findings of fact and recommendation from the Judicial Code Committee: “These written findings of fact and recommendations shall include the names of the parties to the appeal, but shall otherwise omit any disclosure of names in cases where such disclosure is judged to be potentially damaging to their reputation.”
  • Add the following regarding how synod is to receive and consider a judicial code dispute: “Unless synod conducts its own original judicial or appeal hearing, synod shall give deference to the factual findings made by the Judicial Code Committee.”
  • Have the office of the general secretary “maintain a roster of volunteers who are willing to provide assistance to complainants and respondents with respect to prehearing procedures” in judicial code disputes.

Regarding these volunteers, the review team cautioned that making use of a volunteer is not mandatory for either party and the “role remains one of providing technical advice. They are not to do the job of the party for that party.”

The full report of the Judicial Code Review Team will be in the supplement to the Agenda for Synod 2024.