The Anglican Church of Australia maintains a series of courts designed to resolve matters of ecclesiastical conflict and to deal with matters of ecclesiastical offences committed by clergy and lay people (see Constitution IX). The courts' jurisdictions are ordered hierarchically, beginning with tribunals at a diocesan, provincial then national level.
Each diocese is to maintain its own tribunal to deal with breaches of faith, ritual, ceremonial and discipline of the Church within their own jurisdiction. Such tribunals will always have jurisdictions with regards to offences concerning unchastity, sexual misconduct or a criminal offence involving a sentence greater than 12 months. Before a charge is brought to the tribunal it must first be referred to a board of enquiry who will decide whether the matter is to proceed to a hearing.
A diocesan tribunal is the court of a bishop. It consists of the bishop, as president, his appointed deputy president and no less than two other members as prescribed by the diocese's ordinances.
These tribunals may also be established to hear and determine appeals from any determination of a diocesan tribunal within the province by way of a re-hearing. Provinces in Australia generally conform to State boundaries with the exception that Canberra is part of the Province of New South Wales and the Northern Territory is part of the Province of Queensland. A determination of a provincial tribunal may be appealed to the Appellate Tribunal.
A provincial tribunal consists of a president (who is the archbishop of the province) or a deputy president appointed by him, and no less that two other members elected by the provincial synod.
This national tribunal has the jurisdiction to hear and determine charges against any member of the House of Bishops (diocesan bishops only) or any assistant bishop to the Primate concerning breaches of faith, ritual, ceremonial or discipline and of other such offences as specified by canon. A determination by this tribunal may be appealed to the Appellate Tribunal.
It consists of three people, President (who is a lay member of the Appellate Tribunal), a diocesan bishop and a priest of at least seven years' standing. Members are elected or appointed from a panel of people elected by General Synod.
The Episcopal Standards Commission
This Commission was established by the Special Tribunal Canon 2004 and is responsible for the investigation complaints against bishops who are subject to the jurisdiction of the Special Tribunal.
This national tribunal can hear and determine appeals from any determination by the Special Tribunal or an appeal from a diocesan or provincial tribunal. Every appeal is by way of a re-hearing. It may also deal with references in any matter involving questions of faith, ritual, ceremonial or discipline matter in the Church.
The Tribunal consists of seven members, three diocesan bishops and four lay people. Lay members need to be both a qualified lay representatives of a diocese and a legal professional, either as a judge or as a practising barrister or solicitor. The members are appointed by General Synod.
Sentencing by Tribunals
The tribunals are able to make recommendations they consider to be just in the circumstances of the case. The are only able to recommend to the bishop in the diocese concerned one or more of the following sentences:
- deposition from orders;
- prohibition from functioning;
- removal from office;
The national tribunals (Special and Appellate) are to make their recommendations to the Primate, provided he is not a party to any action.