Former Conservative MP and Attorney General Dominic Grieve KC completed an independent review of the governance of Christ Church, Oxford, alongside a report setting out recommendations for changes in Christ Church’s governance to the Governing Body.
Among the report’s most significant recommendations include proposals that the College’s Governing Body should be able to select a preferred Head of House who is not a member of the clergy. This will give the Governing Body a wider pool of candidates when they choose the head of the college.
As it stands, the Dean of Christ Church must be ordained as the Head of House is head of both the college and of Christ Church Cathedral. Under suggested reforms, the Head of House would also be appointed for a renewable fixed term, and provided with a written contract.
These changes are significant because, as Grieve stated, they “would represent the first fundamental changes to its governance structure since 1867. In the course of this Review it has become clear to me both that significant reform is necessary at Christ Church, and that it would be widely welcomed.”
The report also argued that the Dean should no longer be the head of the Foundation, which comprises both the Cathedral and College. Instead, Christ Church should consider creating a Governing Council like those seen at some Cambridge colleges, which would be smaller and meet more regularly than the current Governing Body.
The report also recommends reforms to disciplinary and grievance arrangements, with a new Committee of Chapter to help run the Cathedral.
Grieve’s review was commissioned in June 2022 to ensure that the college’s governance met the needs of an Oxford college in the 21st century. The review found that changes to the existing governance arrangements are necessary to deliver the standards expected of a large charity.
It follows a years long controversy at Christ Church which began in 2017, when former Dean Martyn Percy was accused of sexual assault by Alannah Jeune. In winter of 2022, the college was warned by the UK Charity Commission regulator over misconduct, and a 2019 Financial Times investigation claimed Christ Church was “virtually ungovernable” due to the dispute between the Governing Body and the Dean.
Professor Sarah Foot was appointed as the new Dean of Christ Church earlier this year.
The recommendations will now be considered by Christ Church’s Governing Body. The process of implementing subsequent changes will require consultation with the University, the Church of England, the Charity Commission, and the approval of the Privy Council and Parliament.
Foot stated that the review “makes a series of important recommendations”, and that the governing body will “consider his conclusions and the changes necessary to ensure that Christ Church has an effective system of governance. This vital process will lay firm foundations for the future as we approach the 500th anniversary of Christ Church’s foundation.”