After a shock resignation last month, former Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) Dame Lowell Goddard, has questioned the inquiry’s manageability.
Dame Lowell Goddard held the position of Chair for 15 months, after replacing Baroness Butler Sloss and Dame Fiona Woolf, both of whom left the position over their alleged links to establishment figures who could become compromised by the inquiry’s investigation.
Following the Dame’s resignation, Professor Alexis Jay – who headed the inquiry into sexual abuse in Rotherham – has been appointed to lead the IICSA.
Calls to Review Inquiry
Despite launching 13 investigations, holding 11 preliminary hearings and receiving over 47,000 documents, Dame Goddard has called for a review into the scope of the investigation.
In a letter to the Home Affairs Select Committee, it is alleged that Dame Goddard said that there are problems with the size and scope of the inquiry, therefore claiming that the inquiry is not manageable.
Responding with a statement, Chairwoman Jay rejected the Dame’s call to remodel the inquiry to focus on current events, saying:
“As I said when I was appointed, the Panel intends to ensure that the Inquiry undertakes its work with pace, confidence and clarity.”
“I want to reassure victims and survivors that the panel will not be seeking any revision of the Inquiry’s terms of reference or introducing any new restrictions on its scope.”
“To ensure that the Inquiry can meet the challenges it faces, I have already initiated a wide-ranging internal review of the Inquiry’s ways of working and we are currently looking at different approaches to evaluating the information we receive.”
“We are committed to maintaining efficiency and effectiveness so that the Inquiry can be concluded within a reasonable time and with a constant eye to the cost to the public purse.”
Survivors Rely on Inquiry
For many alleged victims of historic abuse, the inquiry represents their best chance at finally gaining access to justice, after decades of being either too frightened to speak out, or being ignored by police forces altogether.
Peter Garsden, specialist in abuse law, is representing a group action for the alleged victims of the late Lord Janner, which makes up one of the investigations headed by the IICSA.
With the appointment of Professor Jay, many survivor groups were optimistic, as her work in uncovering the Rotherham abuse scandal led her to directly questioning the establishment figures and organisations that were designed to protect vulnerable children.
It is likely that these candid comments from a former-Chair of the inquiry will be met with disappointment from survivor groups, however, Peter outlines why Dame Goddard’s comments are not only unnecessary but also untimely:
- The time to criticise a large public inquiry is at the beginning rather than half way through. It is at that time that the scope is mapped out, survivors consulted, and other interested parties such as government bodies, the police, and others are contacted.
- Thousands of survivors have pinned their hopes on achieving justice through this enquiry. Admittedly, it is wide ranging, but to derail it half way through would be a gross dereliction of duty to some of the most vulnerable and damaged members of our society.
- Many projects such as the Janner module where we act for victims are part way through and listed for a hearing in March 2017. A lot of time and effort has been invested in obtaining documents, and speaking to witnesses. Janner is dead and the CPS have missed their opportunity to prosecute him on 4 previous occasions. It is thus likely to be the victims’ only chance of obtaining some sort of justice is at a public hearing.
- The inquiry in any event is limited in scope. It merely looks at abuse in institutions where there are failings rather than all abuse at any time.
- There may be arguments for changing the way in which the inquiry runs, in order to give it more chair persons rather than just one, each of whom could have their own area of responsibility. Inevitably this would require more funding.
- It may also be possible to delegate the job of holding hearings to other Courts or Tribunals in different parts of the country as has been done at the Australian Commission of Inquiry.
- The attacks which certain parts of the establishment and media seem to have waged upon the Inquiry are alarming. The victims will perceive this, unfortunately, as an attack on their desire for justice.
- The other way in which the survivors will perceive an attack by the establishment on the inquiry is the establishment trying to protect itself, and unknown “dark forces” being played out in yet another attempt at a cover up.
- The psychology of institutional abuse is a child being abused by someone in a position of power and authority, perhaps trying to complain, not being believed, then remaining silent for many years until “the establishment” says it is prepared to listen. It is no surprise, therefore, that they have little or no faith in any justice ever being achieved, and all too easily give up.
- Judge Goddard says that she was swamped by the amount of work needing to be done. Perhaps, therefore, it is a case of increasing resources rather than giving in?
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