As has been well publicised in the media over the last week, Dame Lowell Goddard has resigned from the Inquiry on Thursday 4 August 2016 having overseen the setup of the Inquiry, its infrastructure, scope and the launch of twelve investigations on which see our earlier briefing notes here and here. Professor Alexis Jay OBE, who has been a panel member since the beginning of the Inquiry, was yesterday appointed as the new Chair. Professor Jay’s letter to the Home Secretary gives a very helpful summary of her career to date. Her background in social work and her work on the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham is quite a contrast to Justice Goddard’s legal background. Professor Jay is quoted on the Inquiry website as stating “…the Inquiry is open for business and people are busier than ever working hard to increase momentum. The panel and I are determined to make progress in all parts of the Inquiry’s work…”
Further Preliminary Hearings
Prior to her resignation, Justice Goddard heard six preliminary hearings in the week commencing 25 July 2016. These preliminary hearings related to the following investigations: the investigation into Lord Janner, the Anglican Church, Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale, the Roman Catholic Church, Lambeth Council, Child Migration and Accountability and Reparations.
On 26 July 2016 the Inquiry took the opportunity of making general comments on the importance of the work of the Inquiry. A transcript entitled "Preliminary hearing in general matters relating to all investigations" was published on the Inquiry website. The following key comments were delivered by Justice Goddard:
- The Inquiry is about protecting children, here, now and for the future;
- It is about delivering on the unique opportunity to restore confidence in this nation’s commitment and its ability to respect its most precious assets: its children;
- While it is the most ambitious and wide ranging Inquiry ever established under the Inquiries Act they are wholly committed to the task they have been given;
- The failures of institutions to prevent abuse happening or to respond appropriately to disclosures has had a profound impact on the lives of victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and many of them have grown up feeling that society has let them down;
- These failures have also had an impact on society beyond severe social malfunction and are having a profound effect on health, justice, penal and many other public services and systems;
- The real cost to society of child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation is incalculable and remains ongoing in many manifestations.
In relation to the work of the Inquiry, Justice Goddard emphasised that victims and survivors “have an express and unqualified right to be heard” as well as the right to share their experience in a safe environment. The information that the Truth Project receives will provide data over timespans and across a range of institutions and the Inquiry will publish anonymised summaries of experiences shared by victims and survivors alongside the Inquiry Report.
Justice Goddard reminded the Court that the work of the Research Project is to assist and inform the current investigations and to help scope and define future investigations. It will also assist the Inquiry in publishing original research on child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitations. In terms of reporting on its work, the Inquiry plan to publish an update report towards the end of 2016 and they will also publish an annual business update on the activities for the year passed with a statement of its intended activities for the coming year. Separate reports on the outcome of the thirteen initial investigations will also be published.
Ben Emmerson QC made a number of comments on matters that touch on the thirteen investigations so far. Mr Emmerson’s key comments are below:
- The Inquiry has received 229 applications for core participant status in the investigations so far and have designated 188 core participants;
- 35,000 documents have been received which the legal team have been analysing in preparation for the public hearings;
- The Research Project is contributing to the investigations by providing material on background and context to child abuse in a variety of settings, and has completed a number of internal research projects;
- The Truth Project is underway with sessions taking place in the North West of England and sessions due to commence in the North East in August and in Wales in Autumn;
- More than 2,200 communications from members of the public have been received, many of them making direct allegations of abuse;
- The Inquiry receive an average of 80 to 100 communications a week and make an average of between 20 and 25 police referrals each week;
- Support workers are now on hand to provide emotional support to witnesses by telephone or face to face and counselling sessions are also available;
- The Inquiry will publish a series of “issues papers” on current topics concerned with the identification and prevention of child sexual abuse. The aim of these papers is to give organisations and individuals an opportunity to make submissions on particular topics in order to contribute to policy making. The first two papers invites views on the adequacy of the Civil Justice System and the system for awarding criminal compensation (paper here) as a means of achieving accountability and reparations for victims and survivors of abuse.
Mr Emmerson QC noted the Home Office consultation on mandatory reporting of suspicions of child sexual abuse which launched on 21st July 2016. The closing date for submissions to that consultation is 13 October 2016. After that date, the Inquiry plan to hold a separate and independent seminar on mandatory reporting in order to discuss the issues and arguments in a public setting. Mr Emmerson QC commented on technical issues that relate to the thirteen investigations which are underway; these technical issues include the live streaming of those investigations, broadcasting, anonymity and redaction of documents.
It is not clear whether the resignation of Justice Goddard and appointment of Professor Alexis Jay will have much impact on this wide ranging Inquiry. For now, institutions are encouraged to continue their preparations and response to the Inquiry particularly if they are already a case study or have been contacted by the Inquiry for disclosure of documents. So far, there is no indication that Professor Jay will make significant changes to the scope or work of the Inquiry. However, given the very difficult start to this Inquiry and the many reports about the scale, scope and cost of it, this may be a good opportunity to reassess whether in the current form the Inquiry can realistically deliver meaningful lessons across such a range of sectors.
For further information or assistance or advice in relation to the Independent Inquiry please contact Maria Strauss (firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 3375 7259) or your usual contact in the Child Protection Unit or visit our Child Protection webpage for more information.
This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.
© Farrer & Co LLP, August 2016