Dame Justice Lowell Goddard got a glowing endorsement from Keith Vaz, the Labour chair of the home affairs committee, last week after she appeared before his committee in a pre appointment scrutiny hearing.
Although Theresa May, the home secretary, made sure the committee could only endorse not approve the appointment, MPs this time decided that the best decision was to end the controversy which dogged the past two chairs of the child sex abuse inquiry who both had to quit.
As Keith Vaz said: “We were impressed by the outstanding credentials of Justice Goddard, and the open and transparent way in which she gave evidence to the Committee. We believe she has the necessary skills and dedication to carry out this complex task effectively.”…
“We are confident that Justice Goddard will establish full independence from the Home Office and that she will shape and lead the inquiry in the manner she decides, but with proper consideration for the survivors. This is an important moment for the Inquiry, first established 221 days ago, and is an opportunity to renew the process after two false starts. We wish her well.”
The actual report
by MPs was less favourable that Mr Vaz’s glowing testament and raised a number of issues that should be addressed.
For a start it pointed out that the decision not to appoint any survivor to the committee meant that the promised advisory survivors committee must be beefed up.
As it said : ” We can see the logic of Justice Goddard’s comment that survivors did not need to be represented on the Panel, but only provided that a parallel Survivors’ Forum is established on a formal basis, with strong links to the Inquiry Panel. Its remit, status and relationship with the Panel should be clear from the outset and it should be properly funded to provide the necessary support to its members.”
To my mind this means proper resources and also the same due diligence applied to new members of the panel to ensure those appointed to the advisory panel are suitable for a difficult job.
Second it raised the question of Home Office dominance of both the secretariat and the running of the panel and rightly insisted that more outsiders should be on the secretariat and the chair should be shown to be totally independent in panel member appointments.
It also said that to provide continuity some existing members of the dissolved panel should serve on the inquiry and that perhaps it should consult more widely – citing the success of Hillsborough and Leveson in dealing with victims, which means Dame Justice Goddard should talk to both Lord Leveson and the Bishop of Liverpool about how they handled their inquiries. It is also right that its remit does include Kincora – which was a national not as purely Northern Ireland scandal – and makes sure there is proper liaison between the Scottish and English/Welsh inquiry investigations. It has been pointed out to me by a reader that the committee is silent on Jersey – where I am suspicious there has also been a big cover up of child sexual abuse.
Frankly this inquiry has got to show it is really independent and not a Home Office creature before people can really trust it – after so many false starts.
The inquiry will also sit in a febrile atmosphere with more damning disclosures about what happened in Britain in the 1980s. I know from the work I and my colleagues are doing on Exaro that we only have just begun to investigate the scale of the scandal and there is much more to come. And it probably going to take more than three years to unravel it.