Professor Alexis Jay, the Chairwoman of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has sought to steady the investigation after a period of turbulence that saw a former Chairwoman face allegations of racism and a Home Affairs Select Committee hearing take evidence about the management of the inquiry.
Responding to claims by former Chair Dame Goddard, Professor Jay refused to reduce the scope of the IICSA, stating that there are lessons to be learnt from the past failings of institutions to protect children from abuse.
Responding to the announcement by Professor Jay, and the recent trouble faced by the inquiry, leading Abuse Law Solicitor Peter Garsden said that after turbulence the inquiry must focus on delivering justice to abuse survivors.
Dame Goddard Allegations
Last week saw a variety of allegations emerge about the conduct and behaviour of former Chair Dame Goddard while she led the IICSA.
An investigation published by The Times claimed that several well-placed figures at the inquiry’s headquarters reported that Dame Goddard had openly portrayed a racist attitude, often flew into a rage, and treated staff with contempt.
Dame Goddard has vehemently denied the allegations, however the inquiry’s third Chairwoman faced further criticism when Professor Jay and members of the IICSA panel gave evidence against the New Zealand judge to the Home Affairs Select Committee.
Speaking of claims made in her resignation letter, the committee asked Professor Jay whether the inquiry problems quoted by Dame Goddard when she stepped down – namely an issue with a lack of resource – were actually up to the former Chair to deal with and overcome, an assertion that she agreed with.
Other panel members revealed that concerns had been raised about Dame Goddard’s leadership abilities back in April, with a note passed to Home Office officials; however no further action was recommended.
Professor Jay went on to claim that Dame Goddard did not welcome a collaborative way of working, saying that it was clear from early on in the process that she would have preferred to sit on her own, without the assistance of a panel.
The committee has asked Dame Goddard to appear for questioning, either in person or via video link, so that they can establish the events that culminated in her resignation.
No Reduction In Scope
Between the publication of allegations of the former Chair and Professor Jay giving evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, an announcement was made to highlight that there would be no reduction in the inquiry’s Terms of Reference.
Following her resignation, Dame Goddard claimed that the inquiry’s scope was too big to uncover the truth, prompting her successor to undertake a review of the way the IICSA worked.
Rumours suggested that this would amount to a reduction in scope, with some claiming that looking forward to future prevention of abuse would be a more effective use of the investigation’s time that trawling through older cases.
Professor Jay dispelled these rumours when she announced that there would no reduction in scope of the investigation, outlining in a press release that:
“[She] wants to focus on prevention without neglecting the past. Lessons have to be learnt from institutional failures and any cover-ups that have come to light. Only in this way can we look to the future with confidence.”
“I regard calls for us to forget the past with a degree of scepticism, not least because some institutions may have the most to hide and a vested interest in not turning a spotlight on what happened in the past. We will remain vigilant for other issues that may arise but this framework will provide the right basis for planning, prioritising and delivering the Inquiry’s work.”
Professor Jay did announce a change in the way that the IICSA will work, as she highlighted cultural, structural, financial, and professional and political themes that the investigation will evaluate to see how these areas facilitated sexual abuse.
Logistical Changes To Deliver Justice
Commenting on the developments, Peter – who is representing a group action for the alleged victims of Lord Janner, whose case is being investigated by the IICSA – said:
“The constant issues at the IISCA are undermining survivor’s faith in the process; if the survivors are losing their faith then the investigation is failing in its primary objective.
“Most recently, various survivor groups have been calling for a joint legally qualified chairperson to assist Professor Jay, an assertion I agree with. Whilst non-legally qualified judges exist in our system, for example Magistrates, they are always assisted by legally qualified clerks who advise them on points of law. The same must be true of the IICSA.
“I myself witnessed Judge Lowell Goddard struggling with a lack of knowledge of what she termed as “local law” during one of the preliminary hearings; the same could be true of Professor Jay.
“If we look at some of the wider issues of the inquiry, namely that there has yet to be any evidence heard, then there are some logistical changes that could be made that would benefit survivors.
“The inquiry in its current form is very London-centric and I do not understand why better use is not being made of local hearing centres, especially considering some cases – such as Lord Janner – took place entirely outside of London with victims never even visiting the capital before.
“If the inquiry was to appoint separate QCs for each of the 13 strands of investigation currently being run by the IICSA and hearings took place in often underused local hearing centres then it is likely that survivors will finally receive justice, without having to wait the 10 years it is estimated for the IICSA to deliver results.”