OVERVIEW OF CHANGES
The bulk of the proposed changes to the Rules of Discipline are the task force's attempts to simplify the document's wording and organize it into processes that flow more smoothly and clearly, including the addition of new wording from various authoritative interpretations that are often quoted by judicial commissions in their rulings. At the same time, the proposal also includes several intentional changes to the current rules, which are summarized as follows:
Remediation and Restoration
The name of the “Disciplinary process” has been changed to “Restorative process”. One intent of this change is to stress that the discipline of the church is being exercised in both remedial cases and in cases currently called disciplinary. A second intent is to acknowledge that when trust has been broken by an individual, it is important that it be restored within the community of faith.
Eligibility of Former Members
Several changes are related to ensuring that permanent judicial commissions have enough eligible members to adequately and fairly function. These include allowing former members to be utilized for the required review and administrative leave evaluation process, as well as establishing a minimum quorum of five members.
Classes and Vacancies
A requirement has been added that permanent judicial commissions be divided into three classes as equal in number as possible, with vacancies, when filled, being appointments to specific classes in which the vacancy exists (while this is the practice in some councils, it is not so in all councils).
Expanded Eligibility to Serve - Former Members
The years of ineligibility before re-election to a permanent judicial commission have been reduced from four to two years, in recognition that some councils have limited numbers of qualified individuals to serve on their commissions.
Expanded Eligibility to Serve - Executive Presbyters
Executive Presbyters have been removed from the list of those who may not serve on committees of counsel of the council served.
Remediation Preliminary Questions and Relief
In remediation processes, an additional preliminary question has been added, and the final question (related to stating a claim on which relief can be granted) has been significantly expanded. A section has also been added at the end of this section making declaratory relief optional (as opposed to mandatory).
Evidence - Hearsay
In remediation, witnesses must have firsthand knowledge; that is, "hearsay evidence" is not allowed. In restorative processes, on the other hand, "hearsay evidence" is specifically authorized, and rationale is provided. (Hearsay evidence is not directly addressed in the current Rules of Discipline, and is therefore not barred in either remedial or disciplinary processes.).
Expert witnesses, regardless of their church membership, may no longer be "cited," and required to appear at trials.
The requirement for second citations when a cited witness does not appear has been removed.
Outline of Processes
Throughout the rules, procedures for electronic meetings, testimony, notices, and filings are outlined.
Use of Technology for Meetings and Witnesses
The provision for depositions is replaced by the authorization for witnesses to appear electronically if they are unable to be present in person for a trial.
Decisions in remedial cases may now with certain restrictions be completed and published within ten days of the hearing or trial, and at an electronic meeting.
The General Assembly's Permanent Judicial Commission is no longer obligated to accept all appropriately filed appeals, provided the case has already been reviewed.
A request to withdraw an appeal is now automatically granted unless the withdrawal is challenged by a member of the permanent judicial commission that would hear the appeal.
In order to avoid the filing of "counter appeals," the appellee brief in a remedial appeal may raise additional issues for appellate review, in which case the appellant then has the opportunity to respond to the appellee's brief.
Written allegations in a restorative process must be transmitted by certified mail.
A request for reference in a restorative process may be for the investigation of an allegation, not just the trial.
Appointment of Investigating Committees
All councils are required to provide by rule for the appointment of investigating committees.
Modification of Alternate Form of Resolution
The term "restorative justice" is introduced into the alternative resolution process.
There is a new requirement that each and every "charge" in a restorative process state the specific provision(s) of Scripture and/or the constitution which is alleged to have been violated constituting an offense.
The accuser in a restorative process is now "informed of the pretrial conference but is not required to attend."
Standard for Findings of Guilt
In restorative processes, a new standard for a finding of guilt is introduced, from our parliamentary authority, requiring that commission members must be "morally convinced," rather than convinced "beyond a reasonable doubt."
No Statute of Limitations
In restorative processes, there are no statutes of limitation for charges to be filed. A one-year time limit has been set for investigating committees to do their work.