The Charity Commission has ordered the Christ Church Governing Body and Dean to enter into a mediation process without delay. This follows the most recent escalation of a 2017 dispute surrounding the Very Rev Prof Martyn Percy’s pay and his efforts to reform the college’s governance.

In a press release published on June 25th, the Commission voiced its concern “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.“ 

The Charity Commission regulates registered charities and answers directly to the UK parliament. Its website lists all accounts submitted by charities in England and Wales. It also carries out general monitoring of charities and has powers to conduct statutory as well as regulatory compliance investigations.

A letter to the Commission last month, signed by 41 out of 65 members of the college’s Governing Body, called for the Commission to help remove the Dean from the board of trustees. The Governing Body’s academics stated that Percy had “hampered the day to-day-day operations of the institution” and that he was “not fit to remain a trustee”. One week later, a second letter to the Commission, signed by Percy’s supporters, including senior Church of England figures, stated: “Martyn Percy is a victim of gross injustice and malice. We wish to see this damaging business resolved justly, and with the minimum delay“. 

Helen Stephenson, Charity Commission Chief Executive was quoted in the Commission’s press release: “It is not our job, as charity regulator, to referee disputes. […] 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 conflict originally arose in 2017, when Percy complained that his salary was below the median for Oxford heads of college. He was subsequently suspended after a formal complaint by the Governing Body accused him of behaviour of “immoral, scandalous or disgraceful nature”. Under Christ Church’s statutes, this wording is required to justify dismissing a Dean.

According to Percy’s supporters, his efforts to reform the management of the college and revise its pay structures led the Governing Body to suspend the Dean. Sir Andrew Smith, a retired high court judge who was hired by the college to chair an internal tribunal, subsequently dismissed the complaint and ordered Percy’s reinstatement. Percy has since launched an ongoing employment tribunal against the college, claiming he has been bullied and victimised by its Governing Body.

Following the Charity Commission’s press release, Christ Church College published a statement on their website: “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.” The College further states: “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.“

A university spokesperson told Cherwell: “Issues relating to the current dispute with the Dean, as with any college matter, are the responsibility of Christ Church and its governing body.”

The Commission confirmed it will not comment until the mediation has been completed. It has also asked both sides not to comment publicly or privately whilst the mediation process takes place.