The first preliminary hearing held by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) took place yesterday at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. It marks the start of public hearings in the Inquiry’s 13 investigations. Its purpose was to consider the next steps in the investigation into institutional responses to allegations of child sexual abuse relating to the politician Lord Greville Janner.
The public bodies under scrutiny in the Janner inquiry include the Crown Prosecution Service, Leicestershire police, Leicestershire county council, a number of care homes, the Labour party and the Home Office.
The IICSA will examine allegations of institutional failures to protect children in school, in children’s homes, in churches and other religion institutions, in custodial institutions, in voluntary organisations and online, and it will examine how those institutions and others, including the police, prosecuting authorities and the civil and criminal justice systems, may have failed to respond adequately to reports of child sexual abuse.
On 29 April 2015, in light of the Director of Public Prosecution’s decision not to prosecute Lord Janner, Dame Lowell Goddard, the Inquiry’s Chair, announced that the Inquiry would investigate the allegations against him and the related questions of alleged institutional failure. The overall purpose of the investigation is to determine the extent to which public and private institutions may have failed in their duty to protect children from sexual abuse or failed in their duty to ensure accountability for offences allegedly committed by Greville Janner and others associated with him. Janner is one of four investigations in which preliminary hearings are being heard this month and an early public hearing of the evidence is expected.
Ben Emmerson QC, senior counsel for the inquiry said: “The inquiry is unable to make findings of criminal or civil liability. However, no one should be in any doubt that, where the evidence justifies it the panel will make findings of fact.”
Child abuse lawyer, Peter Garsden of Simpson Millar represents a group of complainants to whom provisional anonymity has been given. Mr Garsden attended yesterday’s hearing to make applications for anonymity and to see what approach will be taken to the questions of broadcasting or live-streaming of the proceedings.
Only one of Mr Garsden’s clients wants to waive his right to anonymity, his reason being that he says he has already been identified in the national press. The remainder of his clients want to remain anonymous for a number of reasons, namely because their family do not know about the allegations, and they are very ‘sensitive’, ‘nervous’ and ‘anxious’ to remain confidential.
Speaking at the Inquiry, Mr Garsden outlined the sort of mental state that his clients are presently in as a result of the abuse they allege to have suffered in childhood. He said that it takes various forms, typically depression of a severe nature or a failure to trust authority.
Mr Garsden told the hearing that his clients are all victims of abuse in childhood. He said that in his experience of representing abuse victims for the last 22 years they were usually abused by somebody in a position of authority. When they are suddenly abused by somebody who perhaps they have trusted for the first time, they spend the rest of their life wishing that they had spoken out about it at the time and that is what leads to deep psychological harm. Speaking to the court he said: “In this case obviously there have been several police investigations which have gone nowhere until the most recent one. Certainly the media and publicity which has taken place, understandably as a result of all this, impacts upon them deeply, turns them to depression and various different disorders of numerous types. So therefore to expect that type of person to give evidence in public is almost a step too far.”
Mr Garsden said that whilst his clients are very anxious for transparency and for the Inquiry to be broadcast, his submission would be that, when it comes to their evidence, the audio and video-feeds should be switched off and their evidence given in camera.
Closing his address to the Inquiry’s Chair he said: “If these witnesses have to give evidence in public on a live-stream broadcast, they would probably suffer psychological harm, worry, anxiety and stress. That is not something that I personally would like to put them through and I don’t think the Inquiry would either”.
The full argument on questions relating to broadcasting in the Janner hearings was adjourned to the next preliminary hearing, which should be fixed to take place at a date in the summer.
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