Appointment of the Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse - Home Affairs Contents

1  The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


1. On 7 July 2014, the Home Secretary announced the establishment of an Independent Panel Inquiry to consider whether public bodies and non-state institutions had taken seriously their duty to protect children from sexual abuse. In the interests of establishing the inquiry as quickly as possible, it was to be a non-statutory inquiry, but the Home Secretary gave an undertaking that it would be given access to all necessary government papers; that it would be free to call witnesses as required; and that if the panel chairman deemed it necessary, the Government would be prepared to convert it into a statutory inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005.[1]

2. Baroness Butler-Sloss, former President of the Family Division of the High Court, was appointed Chair of the panel on 8 July, but she stepped down on 14 July after MPs and survivor groups expressed concerns about the possibility that the inquiry might have to consider decisions taken by her late brother, Sir Michael Havers, as Attorney General in the 1980s.

3. Fiona Woolf CBE JP, the Lord Mayor of London, was appointed Chair on 5 September, but stepped down on 31 October after concerns were raised about her social contacts with Lord and Lady Brittan. When she gave evidence to us in October, it emerged that a letter she had written to the Home Secretary setting out her relevant interests, including her contact with Lord and Lady Brittan, had been re-drafted seven times at the suggestion of the Solicitor and Counsel to the Inquiry, and shared in draft with the Home Office before it was finalised.[2] Mrs Woolf said that she did not believe that the inquiry would have the necessary widespread survivor support if she were to continue to chair it.[3]

4. In October, the Home Secretary published the terms of reference for the inquiry, and announced the names of the Panel members;[4] Counsel to the inquiry, Ben Emmerson QC; and the appointment of an expert adviser to the panel, Professor Alexis Jay OBE, who had recently completed the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham. In November, the Home Secretary announced that she was holding meetings with survivor groups and having discussions with MPs about possible candidates to chair the Panel, and that the proposed new chair would attend a pre-appointment hearing with this Committee.

5. On 4 February 2015, the Home Secretary told the House that she planned to appoint Justice Lowell Goddard, a judge of the High Court of New Zealand, as the new Chair of the inquiry. She also announced that she would be dissolving the existing Panel and establishing a new, statutory inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005. She emphasised that this decision was by no means a criticism of the existing Panel members, whom she invited to apply for the new Panel.[5] Applications for the new Panel would be judged against a set of published criteria.[6]

6. Prior to the announcement of the new proposed Chair, we took oral evidence about the panel inquiry from witnesses including some members of the original panel, representatives of survivor groups, Fiona Woolf CBE and Ben Emmerson QC. During those evidence sessions we heard witnesses' views on the Home Office's process for selecting candidates for the new chair. Panel members and representatives of survivor groups told us that they had not been consulted before the appointment of the first two Chairs.[7] Alison Millar, a solicitor who acts for several survivors, said that:

    … there has been a lack of transparency so far about how people have been appointed - both as chair and to the panel - and there has been a lack of consultation and engagement with interested parties, and most particularly those affected by abuse, over the way this inquiry should be handled, what the terms of reference should be and, most crucially, how it can involve people in the process. The way it has been handled so far is a matter of regret to my clients.[8]

7. There were well-publicised problems with the appointment of the Panel, which resulted in the early resignation of two previous Chairs. It is important that a Chair is now appointed who will command the confidence of survivors.

The work of the panel since its appointment

8. The Panel met for the first time on 12 November and announced that it intended to hold a series of listening meetings to seek the views of survivors of child sexual abuse on the work of the Inquiry and to consider how personal support could be offered to those interacting with the Inquiry. In the absence of a Chair, Ben Emmerson QC, Counsel to the Inquiry, acted as a facilitator, in effect taking on the Chair's role on a temporary basis.

9. While there is no doubting Mr Emmerson's impressive credentials as a lawyer, it is clear that he did not win the confidence of all the members of the Panel. With the benefit of hindsight, it might have been a mistake for the Inquiry Counsel to fill the void created by the absence of a Chair. A dispute arose between Mr Emmerson and Sharon Evans, one of the two survivors on the Panel. We make no comment on this dispute, except that it seems to have arisen at least in part as a result of the vacuum left by the absence of a Chair.

10. Four sessions were held during December 2014, in London, Bristol and Manchester, but on 21 January, the Panel announced that it had postponed the remaining sessions until after the Home Secretary had made her decision on the future of the panel and had appointed a new Chair.

11. In her statement to the House on 3 November, the Home Secretary acknowledged that some campaigners had called for the inquiry to become a statutory inquiry. Panel members told us in oral evidence that they had agreed unanimously that the inquiry should be put on a statutory footing; that they had written to advise the Home Secretary of this view;[9] and that they remained confident that the panel could take its work forward under a new Chair.[10] This was also the consensus among a group of survivors whom we met privately on 6 November, several of whom emphasised the need for the inquiry to have the power to compel witnesses to give evidence.

12. The panel's expert adviser, Professor Jay, said that the most important issues for moving forward were the appointment of a chair who would could lead panel members effectively, and the conversion of the inquiry to a statutory inquiry.[11] Professor Jenny Pearce OBE, a Panel Member, pointed to the need for strong leadership and robust methodology to deal with conflicting views and perspectives:

    … politics will come into the nature of the inquiry, so too will different voices of different groups of survivors and victims who have been abused or harmed. Those different voices may well be in conflict with each other and may well be using different channels, including the media, to try to advance different perspectives. What the panel and inquiry have to do is to develop a methodology that is robust enough to make sure that all voices are heard and that the different pressures of fighting or debate outside the work of the panel is accounted for and embraced, rather than challenged.[12]

13. We thank all the members of the original Panel for their work. The work that has already been done, in particular the material gathered at listening meetings, must be made available to the new Panel. The original Panel was unable to operate effectively without leadership and the appointment of a Chair for the new Panel should not be delayed further. The terms of reference for the inquiry need to be established and the new Panel appointed as quickly as possible so that the inquiry team can get to work. Parliament must be kept actively informed about the future work of the inquiry.

14. The Home Secretary has asked us to complete this pre-appointment process to a very challenging deadline, which we have done. The Home Secretary also invited us to nominate a candidate of our own. We declined to do so, as this would have compromised any subsequent pre-appointment hearing, potentially bringing the whole process into disrepute. We do not believe that select committees which are to conduct pre-appointment should ever be asked to put forward candidates of their own.

15. Given the very limited time available for this process, we have sought views from as wide a range of people as possible. We have issued a general call for written submissions, which has been publicised on our website, we have written to all Members of the House of Commons seeking their views, and we held a private meeting with survivors on the morning of Wednesday 11 February, before we took evidence from Justice Goddard. The Chair of the Committee wrote to the Home Secretary on 9 February, asking for further details of the appointment process: the number of candidates who were considered for the post, the number shortlisted, the salary for the post and any additional terms and conditions relevant to the appointment. In her reply, she said that she had received over 150 nominations, from survivors, survivors' representatives, MPs, and members of the public. In addition, the Home Office had contacted Commonwealth countries, via the Foreign Office, to identify any suitable candidates.[13] However, she declined to specify the salary range, saying only that it would be "in line with other public appointments of this nature". We are concerned that the Home Secretary has not disclosed Justice Goddard's proposed salary range to us. This is not in line with the open and transparent approach we would expect in the course of a pre-appointment process.

16. The Home Secretary also refused to tell us how many candidates she had interviewed for the post, saying she did not believe it would be appropriate for her to do so. We are disappointed with this response, which does not display the openness and transparency we would expect from the Home Secretary towards the Select Committee, especially as she had made it clear that she wanted to ensure complete transparency in the process.

17. We welcome the role of this Committee in this pre-appointment hearing, which we believe is a valuable contribution to the independence and transparency of the inquiry process. The Committee's involvement should have been invited from the start.

18. The controversy of the last few months has demonstrated the need for the inquiry to develop a robust methodology for dealing with the conflicting views of different contributors to the inquiry and for demonstrating transparency of the inquiry process whilst maintaining individuals' confidentiality. The panel will need to ensure that different views are heard and taken account of, and that all survivors of abuse have confidence in that process.

1  Back

2   Qq 13 ff and letter from Fiona Woolf to the Chair of the Committee, dated 29 October 2014 Back

3  Back

4   The Panel Members were Sharon Evans, Ivor Frank, Dame Moira Gibb, Barbara Hearn OBE, Professor Jenny Pearce OBE, Drusillla Sharpling CBE, Professor Terence Stephenson and Graham Wilmer MBE Back

5   HC Deb, 4 February 2015, col. 275 Back

6   Not yet published Back

7   Q21 and Q112 Back

8   Q113 Back

9   Q50 Back

10   Q48 Back

11   Q78 Back

12   Q48 Back

13   See Appendix 3 Back

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Prepared 13 February 2015