Putting Lawyers First: Will the Child Sex Abuse Inquiry really benefit survivors?

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

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

The extraordinary disclosure reported on the Exaro website and in The Sunday Times today that the Goddard Judicial inquiry into child sexual abuse will recruit a record number of in-house QCs and lawyers raises  more than just a few eyebrows.

It appears that Ben Emmerson, the QC who survived the cull that abolished the independent panel, will be interviewing for 20 more barristers – ten of them QC’s – this month This far outstrips the number employed for the Leveson inquiry into the press or the very long running Saville Inquiry into the  Northern Ireland ” Bloody Sunday ” atrocity.

It is not surprising that survivors – already excluded from the panel and any meaningful input into the proceedings – have reacted with fury. If you also take into account that every organisation from the police to local government, the security services to Whitehall and ministers, would want to bring along their own QC at public expense, you can see where the phrase ” lawyer fest” comes from.

And you have to add that most of the remaining shrunk panel are also lawyers or connected to the law. The remaining people are  Alexis Jay, author of the report last year on CSA in Rotherham; Drusilla Sharpling, barrister and former senior prosecutor; Malcolm Evans, professor of public international law; and Ivor Frank, barrister and advisor to the Home Office..Only Alexis Jay is not connected to the law.

If you compare the Goddard panel with the former Hillsborough Panel and the Gosport Independent Panel (I declare an interest I am a member) and you can see how the members come from diverse backgrounds with different interests. They are not predominately lawyers.

True it is clear that  Emmerson has asked for a wide range of legal expertise including specialists in child care, local authorities, public law and criminal law.But that is not the same as having a mix of people with different experience away from the law courts.

Indeed the whole process could end up as  being an intimidatory experience for any survivor wishing to give evidence.

Ben Emmerson: A Thomas Cromwell figure? Pic Credit: UN

Ben Emmerson: A Thomas Cromwell figure?
Pic Credit: UN

There is also a question about Emmerson himself. He is a very well-regarded human rights lawyer but he is also ( according to past members of the panel ) an arrogant and bombastic figure who might well create division rather than the healing process needed in such a sensitive area.

His powers of patronage are large and he appears to be creating his own Empire  Indeed in another century  a parallel could be drawn with Thomas Cromwell  – a brilliant lawyer and advocate for Henry VIII  (read Hilary Mantel’s excellent novels) who wielded enormous patronage. He ended up being beheaded for heresy and treason on Tower Hill. I am not suggesting such an ISIS style modern fate for Emmerson but the way this has been done suggests he is acting as a Cromwell type figure to Lady Goddard and Theresa May. His solutions may not be the right ones and one would not want  the inquiry to be not trusted as a result.

The other inquiries have  one public aim – putting the families involved first. The parallel aim for the Goddard Inquiry should be to put the survivors at the centre of its work. At the moment it is looking like that it is putting lawyers first – and  if lawyers are not careful, they will seen  by survivors ( if they have not already said so) as exploiting survivors for their own personal careers.,