The opening Lord Greville Janner hearing of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) (“the Goddard Inquiry”), will open tomorrow and hear arguments about:-
- Submissions on scope of the investigation;
- Broadcast of proceedings;
- Timetable for further hearings and applications for anonymity
- Applications from those designated as Core Participants.
As we act for 10 of the victims of Lord Janner, I will be there to represent their interests, amongst, no doubt, throngs of learned Counsel, and before Honour Goddard in Court 73 of the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
There is a classic conflict of interest to be played out tomorrow:-
- On the one hand – the open and public broadcast of a scandal involving public bodies, political parties, and a former Labour politician into allegations of serious sexual abuse allegedly covered up by those in positions of power.
- On the other hand – the need for confidentiality, and privacy so as to protect some of the most vulnerable members of our society, who have been seriously sexually abused by Lord Janner as long ago as 1970, and as recently as 1988. Most of the men whom we represent have not told their families what has happened and want to protect their children from finding out the truth. They are understandably ashamed of having been molested by an older man when they were children.
Thankfully, the law has moved on considerably, and now recognises that not only children, but also vulnerable adults need protection when giving evidence before a Court of Law, or, here, an Inquiry into a matter of public importance. The Sexual Offences Amendment Act 1992 entitles the victims to anonymity, but the facilities offered to them by the inquiry in the evidential setting include:-
- Giving evidence behind a screen
- A delay in transmission of the evidence so that the evidence is not live
- The Video is switched off leaving audio
- Both audio and video are switched off.
- The cameras point at the legal team not the witness
The question is, will these facilities be sufficient to guarantee privacy. One has to consider “jigsaw disclosure”, which is where the identity of a witness can be pieced together from facts presented in other parts of the inquiry evidence. So I am arguing for all the victim evidence to be heard “in camera” ie in complete secrecy, but the remainder of the inquiry to be broadcast publicly so as to demonstrate transparency.
Conversely, one of our clients, who has already given stories to the media, wants to waive his anonymity because his details are already out there. He does, however, want to give evidence behind a screen.
There will no doubt be witnesses from Leicestershire County Council and the staff from the local authority who ran the children’s homes, the Labour Party, the Crown Prosecution Service, and maybe MI6 (we just don’t know yet, but will find out tomorrow).
So far the opening hearing has received scant coverage, which is surprising. It cannot be broadcast but there are media possibilities outside.
So what are my predictions:-
- The evidence by our clients, the victims, will be too sensitive to be broadcast live, and will be heard in camera.
- The rest of the hearing will be broadcast. There is a lot of pressure now on openness of justice and transparency. Even certain Family dispute cases can be published openly. We are going in the right direction, and following America, which is not always a good thing. The scandals and cover ups have been so enthusiastically reported by the media that at least some of it must be aired in some way even if it is only the opening and closing remarks of Counsel.
If you need advice in relation to any allegation of abuse please contact our team at the office.