Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) Appoints New Chair

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The Law Of... following through on abuse inquiries

Professor Alexis Jay, who led the inquiry into the Rotherham sexual exploitation scandal, has been appointed as the new Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

Professor Alexis Jay has been appointed as the new Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA)

Peter Garsden, Head of Abuse Claims at Simpson Millar, explains how the survivors of alleged abuse may be feeling in the wake of the appointment.

Fourth Chairwoman

The beleaguered inquiry, which was announced by then Home Secretary Theresa May in 2014, is now on its fourth Chair, having begun life under Baroness Butler-Sloss, before appointing Fiona Woolf and subsequently Dame Lowell Goddard.

The first 2 Chairwomen left under controversial circumstances, as questions arose over their links to the very establishment figures and institutions that the inquiry was established to challenge.

Dame Goddard, who is the longest serving Chair at 15 months, recently resigned under mysterious circumstances, with rumours suggesting that she may have either been unable to balance the work of the inquiry with her commitments in her home country of New Zealand, or that she was forced to leave by senior members within the IICSA.

This troubled history makes Professor Jay the inquiry's fourth Chair and there has yet to be a single submission of evidence by a survivor of alleged abuse.

With continued difficulties, all of those involved in the inquiry will be hoping that Professor Jay will be able to add a sense of calm to proceedings and should look with confidence at her record of uncovering historic abuse.

Who Is Professor Alexis Jay?

With a long and varied history in supporting victims of abuse, Professor Jay is well suited to this position, despite recent concerns that have been voiced over her lack of legal experience.

The former Social Worker is the first Chairwoman of the IICSA who is not a lawyer, which could become a point of contention further down the line.

In short, Professor Alexis Jay's experience is as follows:

  • Chief Social Work Inspector at the Social Work Inspection Agency (SWIA): In this role, the Professor worked within a government organisation that was designed to evaluate all aspects of the social services provided by local authorities in Scotland
  • Chief Social Work Inspector to the Scottish Government: Performing a similar role as that of the SWIA, Prof. Jay reported directly to the Scottish Government with any findings of failures in care
  • Visiting Professor at Strathclyde University: Through this role, Prof. Jay chairs the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland
  • Awarded an OBE in 2012 for services to children and families
  • Led the independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham: The inquiry led to a scathing report on the failure of the local council to protect children from sexual abuse, with an estimated 1,400 children affected from the late 1990s until 2013
  • Panel Advisor on the IICSA: Before being appointed as the successor to Dame Goddard, Prof. Jay was already sitting on the inquiry's Panel of expert advisors

While Prof. Jay may not hold the same legal expertise as her predecessors, there is no questioning her experience in the area of child exploitation and abuse. In a statement announcing the appointment, Prof. Jay said:

"Be in no doubt – the Inquiry is open for business and people are busier than ever working hard to increase momentum. The Panel and I are determined to make progress on all parts of the Inquiry's work, including speaking to victims and survivors."

"I am determined to overcome the challenges along the way. I will lead the largest public inquiry of its kind and together with my fellow Panel members we will fearlessly examine institutional failures, past and present, and make recommendations so that the children of England and Wales are better protected now and in the future."

Ignored Victims

While the fast appointment of the new Chair may be reassuring to the victims of abuse that the IICSA was established to represent, there may be some qualms over the process involved, as Peter explains:

"As I called for after the shock resignation of Dame Goddard, there has been a swift appointment for the new Chair of the inquiry. This should allow the new Chair to pick up where Dame Goddard left off and the momentum of the inquiry should be carried over to the new Chair."

"The only concern during the appointment process is the lack of consultation; the appointment was made by the judgement of the new Home Secretary alone and none of the survivors of alleged abuse were consulted. There seems to be a severe lack of due democratic process, which is disappointing in an inquiry that is designed to give a voice to those who were let down by the system for decades."

"Despite this, there is a sense of optimism around Prof. Jay, as she is heralded for her previous success when leading the inquiry into abuse in Rotherham."

"I hope that this is the final new Chair appointed to the inquiry and implore that Prof. Jay begins to consult and take on board the feelings of the alleged victims, amongst whom there is currently a great mistrust of not only establishment figures, but of the IICSA itself."


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