Goddard Inquiry: A very judicial view of child sex abuse

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

It was always clear that when the independent panel into child sex abuse morphed into a full blown judicial inquiry under Lady Justice Goddard that the emphasis and atmosphere of the hearings  would change.

Now it has started with preliminary hearings into  Greville Janner, the Anglican Church, Rochdale and Sir Cyril Smith and the forthcoming one on Lambeth it could couldn’t be clearer.

The tone was set by Ben Emmerson, counsel to the inquiry, when he outlined the role of the inquiry. Meeting in Court no 73  at the imposing Royal Courts of Justice in London it will have the atmosphere of a trial, the trappings of a trial, and a huge surfeit of lawyers representing every conceivable interest you see at any trial.

Each separate inquiry over the next five years will amount to a  judicial hearing into the case and there will be a lot of them.The focus will be  into looking into  events surrounding each case  based on strict legal criteria.

This is very different to the workings of an independent panel inquiry. I am a member of one at the moment so cannot comment on its work. But there is a quite a different emphasis in approach between an inquiry which focuses on putting together facts and  whose prime responsibility is to the people who have made the complaints and an  adversarial  inquiry that will be dominated by legal arguments and disputes.

Ben Emmerson, in my view, gave the game away, in his opening address.

He said this on one key point and I  report this in full :

“As will be obvious, Madam, the Westminster  investigations take place in a highly charged media environment. Allegations of the involvement of  politicians in child sexual abuse are reported, on the  one hand, as evidence of a paedophile conspiracy at the heart of Westminster and, on the other hand, as evidence  of a modern-day witch-hunt. It is the role of this  Inquiry to move from the realms of rumour and speculation, allegation and counter-allegation, to the  assessment of objective facts.

The Inquiry must consider all relevant documents, take evidence from witnesses and publish a report which sets out in clear terms what the evidence shows. In doing so, the Inquiry will need to remain sensitive to the particular needs of vulnerable complainants without unduly privileging their testimony. The Inquiry will also need to recognise the damage that can be caused by false accusations of sexual abuse, without hesitating to make findings against individuals and institutions if justified by the evidence. “

What concerned me – and I sought guidance from the inquiry on this – is whether survivors who give evidence will find themselves ” on trial ” during this inquiry and subject to rigorous cross examination about what they claimed happened to them.

The inquiry has clarified that it plans no hearings just to cover cases of false allegations which may disappoint the very vocal minority on the internet who claim that the level of child sex abuse is exaggerated and the motives of survivors are to get easy money by lying about what happened to them.

But this threat  which  I have outlined in bold must be very real for survivors who may want to give evidence in highly contentious cases. If  it does – sometime down the route – look at the Westminster paedophile ring – will ” Nick ” be expected to testify and face questions from lawyers for Harvey Proctor  who is alleged to be his abuser ( and vociferously denies it)- at the risk that a ” court” will decide he could be publicly condemned for going to the police in the first place.

Judgements are also being made on who should be a ” core participant ” – ie a person who can question  all witnesses -and this has already happened at the first preliminary hearing on Greville Janner

Here  Nigel O’Mara, a survivor and campaigner applicant for core participant status,is involved in a legal dispute over whether he should be allowed to become one. In an independent panel this would not arise as all victims are treated equally and there are no public hearings. Justice Goddard has had to reserve judgement on this, but it will not be the last.

I raise these issues not because I  want the inquiry to fail by highlighting problems for survivors in giving evidence – but to warn of potential pitfalls. If I was a survivor I would weigh up these issues very carefully before giving evidence.

 

11 thoughts on “Goddard Inquiry: A very judicial view of child sex abuse

  1. Thanks for an illuminating read. Very easy to get my head around. I’m hopeful there will be some alternative, ‘recognised’, panel.
    I assume the panel that you sit on relates to another topic. no slight intended.

    • Yes it is an independent panel – the Gosport War Memorial Independent Panel looking at historical unexplained deaths at an NHS hospital which have been raised by families of loved ones.

    • This is interesting because when I asked for an explanation of this approach from the inquiry they drew my attention to the previous paragraph from the Westminster paedophile ring which does suggest they are mindful of this.
      Obviously with a current police investigation it will be out of their remit. But after the inquiry is over – either by the Met dropping it – or it going to trial and leading to an acquittal or conviction it will then become part of their remit. And they have five years to go.

      • The solicitors to the inquiry said, in a separate email, they had logged my information for possible future use. Yes I suppose it cannot be part of their remit if the midland inquiry is still active.

  2. Far better surely to attempt to get at the truth, rather than accept any far-fetched allegation as the ‘People’s Tribunal’ did? That report sank virtually without trace because some of the ‘evidence’ submitted was really preposterous. We don’t need another echo chamber, but something that will give confidence that allegations of paedophile rings have really been examined properly.

    • As regards ‘Westminster Allegations’: I’m inclined to think that we have already experienced much of the truth (as have the police and security services). Certainly there are politicians and SPADS (particularly) who were appalled by the behaviour of some of their colleagues in the early nineties.
      ‘Good’ people often do bad stuff; especially in boozy company.

      The industrialisation of care-home abuse happened. I have spoken to enough social-workers over the years to know this (as much as you can ever know anything).
      I would take a bet that the majority of the perpetrators justified their predatory behaviour as ‘kindliness’ to disadvantaged kids; most of them were probably as groomed as their victims.
      Honey-traps (no denigration intended) are probably older than democracy and to listen to party whips, more effective than honest politics. Bringing stuff like this into the light makes them (whips) redundant and exposes our HoP as the (over-expensive) cardboard cut-out it really is.
      If our politics is now cleansed of this type of sexual behaviour (Is it? Why?) something else will have taken it’s place as a thumbscrew. That’s the nature of the beast we condone.

      Excuse me getting a bit carried away but I really agree with you. I just don’t think ‘far-fetched’ is a useful descriptor.
      1) We need exploitative behaviour made difficult and punished/exposed. Everywhere.
      2) We need a system of government where coercion is not an accepted tool.
      Both these things would make for a more fit society.

  3. It’s just a very expensive cover up, same as the Pindown enquiry, and we Pindown victims are being booted out of the way. I’m STILL waiting for a reply from the Truth Commission from my filled in and sent back form, it’s a really disgusting way to treat people. I feel I’m under house arrest now,as despite having no criminal record I’ve been placed under the care of Stafford Police following my discharge from being sectioned to St George’s Psychiatric Hospital, Daniel Hodge stopped my counselling with Amanda Wheatley, it’s frightening how they are treating us, really frightening

  4. You’ve made a couple of important points supporting your case for a non-statutory inquiry, and Emmerson’s role in defining the anticipated route the Goddard Inquiry will follow is a reminder us, unsettlingly, that he was the unique survivor from the mass clear-out of original Inquiry choices and appointments.

    Suspicions remain that the controversial choice of Goddard may have been intended to ensure that Emmerson effectively continued to hold the reins on behalf of the Home Office or whoever.

    Nevertheless, if Goddard does pursue her own course, and particularly if she decides that the Inquiry’s terms of reference should be extended to accommodate connections between Kincora and Jersey and the mainland, the powers of a statutory inquiry to command the delivery of necessary evidence still appear crucial.

    It’s my understanding that, since Inquiry hearings are not intended to be the equivalent of trial by judge and jury, it’s open to Goddard to ensure that adversarial proceedings don’t prevent witnesses from providing her with evidence she requires, so that she has the power to intervene if she believes that representatives of “interested parties” are acting destructively rather than defensively. How she handles that genuine problem is likely to be a crucial test of the genuineness of intent behind the setting up of this inquiry.

  5. Para. 4.105 of the Macur Review Report quotes Patricia Scotland’s advice to the Welsh Office about the conflict of interest between being a party to the Inquiry and the Waterhouse Tribunal’s commissioner.

    “… Having invested millions of pounds in this Inquiry it would be a tragedy if the recommendations arising from this Inquiry were based on perceptions which were not sufficiently well informed to make all or any of them amenable to implementation. …”

    Goddard should have that framed and presented to the Home Office, and ensure that every party to her Inquiry reads it and understands their responsibility for ensuring that the Inquiry’s ostensible purpose is not frustrated.

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