Goddard Inquiry: A very judicial view of child sex abuse

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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.

 

A worrying indictment of how child sex abuse cases are handled today

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This week the inquiry into historic child sexual abuse under New Zealand judge Lady Justice Goddard will start preliminary hearings which could last years. On Wednesday it starts with a hearing into allegations against the late Lord Janner. The following Wednesday there are two short sessions looking into abuse inside the Anglican Church and at Knowl View and other venues in Rochdale and on Thursday March 24  into child sexual abuse of people in the care of Lambeth Council. The details are here.

Last week a report came out from the United Kingdom  Child Sex Abuse People’s Tribunal- a very small scale investigation that took evidence from 24 people covering different types of sexual abuse with families, institutions and paedophile rings. What comes out – apart from horrific stories from the testimony of individuals – is a system not capable of sensitively handling the issue. As it says in this paragraph:

people's tribunal two

That to my mind  is as important as the recommendations reported on Mail On line by  the Press Association here . These include a permanent commission,provision of advocates to survivors  proper links between mental health and  police investigating abuse  and a safe channel for victims yo give evidence anonymously.plus better training for police, the judiciary and the health service to handle cases.

This report deserves to be taken seriously as its steering committee was composed ,mainly of survivors themselves  aided by professional advisers and two experts, Regina Paulose, an American lawyer and former prosecutor and Alan Collins, a British solicitor with enormous experience in handling child abuse cases from Jersey’s Haut de la Garenne inquiry  to Australia and Kenya.

If the Goddard Inquiry really wants to tackle the issue they could  not do much better than take  this on board  when they start their hearings.

The full report can be found here.

 

 

 

 

 

Child Sex Abuse Inquiry: A little step in the right direction

New Zealand dame Justice Lowell Goddard pic credit: http://www.teara.govt.nz/

New Zealand dame Justice Lowell Goddard pic credit: http://www.teara.govt.nz/

Today’s announcement by Theresa May, the home secretary, and Justice Lowell Goddard, the New Zealand judge, heading the  child sex abuse inquiry, on the structure of the inquiry shows at least that both of them have listened to MPs on the Commons  Home Affairs Select Committee.

The welcome news is that both have realised that there needs to be some continuity on the new panel of the inquiry and that  it was not a good idea to throw everybody off the inquiry except for its QC, Ben Emmerson.

Particularly welcome is the promotion of Alexis Jay, who did so much to expose the appalling grooming scandal in Rotherham, to a panel member. Her voice and contribution to its work will be invaluable.

Also the reappointment of Dru Sharpling, one of the sharper minds, I am told,  on the Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, is a good one – someone with knowledge of child sex abuse and dealing with the Official Secrets Act.

The third re-appointment,another barrister, Ivor Frank, I will reserve judgement as his speciality seems to be more in the field of child abduction rather than child sexual abuse.

While the appointment of Professor Malcolm Evans , appears to duplicate a rather crowded United Nations presence – since the chair, the QC  himself are all connected to UN human rights and torture issues.

As expected survivors will have no role to play in writing the report or the detailed hearings. Justice Goddard makes it clear she was doesn’t want them present at the inner workings of the inquiry – taking a view often expressed by lawyers  ( including those who defend paedophiles) that anyone who has been sexually abused is biased,can’t be objective about anything and can’t come to any independent conclusions.

She puts a bit more politely in her statement: “ the appointment of victims or survivors to the panel will not, in my view, be consistent with the objectivity, independence and impartiality that is required of members of an independent panel who are required to act in a quasi-judicial capacity in the course of the Inquiry. Secondly, because it became clear to me during my consultations with representatives of victims and survivors groups that they reflect a wide range of divergent experiences and views. “

Instead she proposes two advisory committees.

“I have decided instead to establish a Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel (VSCP) which will be closely involved in the work of the Inquiry and will provide advice and guidance to myself and the panel as the Inquiry proceeds. There will be eight members of the VSCP, nominated by victims and survivors, who will bring a representative cross-section of experience and opinion. The VSCP will be funded out of the Inquiry’s overall budget and those appointed to the VSCP will receive an honorarium for their contribution to the work of the Inquiry and will be entitled to reimbursement of travel and other expenses.”

The good thing is that she has listened to MPs about the advisory body having funding and a role -but I am to be convinced that they will have a real say. On top of this there appears to be an  “also ran ” category- people who self select themselves to be involved if they fail to meet the criteria to sit on the main advisory board.

She has  not fleshed out exactly how this is going to work – and  the person who should have handled press inquiries had left her telephone on answer- so no guidance was available. Hardly very transparent.

The good  thing is Theresa May has avoided the pitfall of leaving the inquiry in limbo- and got this announcement out in time before election purdah comes into play. But I shall remain sceptical – given the mess surrounding the creation of this inquiry – until more information is released.

Child Sex Abuse: Green light for Goddard inquiry with caveats from MPs

New Zealand dame Justice Lowell Goddard pic credit: http://www.teara.govt.nz/

New Zealand dame Justice Lowell Goddard pic credit: http://www.teara.govt.nz/

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.

NO survivors on the Goddard child sex abuse inquiry panel

Justice Lowell Goddard giving evidence to House of Commons home affairs committee today. Pic credit: BBC

Justice Lowell Goddard giving evidence to House of Commons home affairs committee today. Pic credit: BBC

The Theresa May experiment to appoint survivors to the new inquiry into historical child sexual abuse is over.

Both  the new ” non establishment”  chair Justice Lowell Goddard in her evidence to the Commons home affairs select committee and Graham Wilmer,a former member of the panel, in a letter  disclosed today on Exaro confirm this.

As Lowell Goddard said: “There are inherent risks in having people with personal experience of abuse as members of an impartial and independent panel.”

Frankly the row and bitter campaign by some organisations, l am afraid like the Survivors Alliance, against people appointed to the panel has ended in excluding survivors voices in the writing of the report. They have shot themselves in the foot.

They will obviously be some appointed to an advisory panel – but no one should kid themselves – that they will have the same influence as a member of the panel. It will be up to the judge to decide how often and how much they will be consulted but up to her and her QC adviser, Ben Emmerson, to decide what  will appear in the report. A radical experiment in setting up an inquiry to deal with one of the nastiest and most persistent blots in British public life – the exploitation of children by paedophiles – has been killed  with the help of the very people who suffered that fate.

As Graham Wilmer wrote: “I wanted to inform you that I will not be making any application to be part of the new Goddard inquiry, either as a panel member or as part of any survivors’ advisory group, in whatever form that may take.

“My reasons are these: firstly, I am led to understand that the new panel will not include any survivors, so making an application would be pointless in any case.”

He also blames what he describes as “the clarion voices” of people who falsely claim to represent those who suffered sexual abuse in their childhood, “and the aggressive and abusive tactics of the lone-wolf campaigners, together with the questionable motives of some lawyers and others who claim to represent the interests of survivors.”

There will still be people appointed to the panel but it is now clear they will be professional experts none of whom have had any experience of child sexual abuse themselves.

In my view this a very great shame – it was very difficult to achieve. But survivors will be able to speak to the inquiry and also to the new People’s Tribunal now in the process of being set which has survivors on its steering committee.