Further Abuse Inquiry Resignation Raises Questions Over Future


The Law Of... uncovering historic sexual abuse

With the resignation of third successive lawyer from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), questions have arisen over the management of the country's largest public inquiry.

Leading Lawyer Professor Aileen McColgan Resigns From Abuse Inquiry

Questioning whether there could be something wrong at the top of the inquiry, Peter Garsden – Head of Abuse Law at Simpson Millar – explains why it is understandable that survivors are beginning to lose trust in the inquiry's ability to uncover the truth of historical sexual abuse.

Questions Over Scope

The abuse inquiry has had a turbulent time since it was first announced by then Home Secretary Theresa May in July 2014.

The inquiry's first Chairwoman, Judge Butler-Sloss, quit less than a week after her appointment, with her successor Lord Mayor Fiona Woolf, stepping down just two weeks after her own appointment – both left the inquiry due to their alleged links to the establishment figures that the IICSA was set up to investigate.

The third Chair, Dame Lowell Goddard, held her post for 15 months, stepping down earlier this year while claiming that the inquiry's scope was too broad to uncover the truth.

In the face of criticism and questions over the inquiry's ability to complete its original goals, the current Chair – Professor Alexis Jay, the former Social Worker who successfully uncovered large scale abuse in Rotherham – attempted to bring stability by announcing that there will be no reduction in scope, instead announcing a new way of working that focused on four core themes that could have facilitated sexual abuse.

The new focus for the inquiry will be based on the following thematic strands:

  • Cultural – examining the culture and attitudes within institutions that allow sexual abuse to go unchallenged
  • Structural – looking at the frameworks within and between institutions that prevent us from stopping abuse
  • Financial – considering the financial and resource arrangements for the relevant institutions and services
  • Professional and political – studying the leadership and professional practices of those working for relevant institutions

Third Lawyer Resigns

The new focus for the inquiry from Professor Jay bought some hope that the inquiry may be on track to continue the work started by Dame Goddard, which established 13 separate investigations into historic abuse, including the investigation of Lord Greville Janner, for which Peter is representing a group action.

Any trust restored by Professor Jay's fresh approach seems to be short lived, as Professor Aileen McColgan – who was the lawyer in charge of investigating abuse in Anglican and Catholic churches – has followed in the recent footsteps of lead counsel Ben Emmerson and joint first junior counsel Elizabeth Prochaska in leaving her position.

Rumours are suggesting that Professor McColgan has quit over concerns about the leadership of Professor Jay, who has faced criticisms for her lack of legal background.

In a further blow to the credibility of the inquiry, a statement announced that a hearing, scheduled for March, for the Lord Janner investigation has been postponed due to ongoing police investigations.

Prime Minister Theresa May discussed the inquiry at a recent PMQs, insisting that she still has absolute confidence in the ability of Professor Jay.

Questions At Top Of Inquiry

Peter explains how these latest setbacks, and crucially the way they are being reported, is undermining the trust of survivors, who continue to pin their hopes on the fledgling inquiry:

"The media should be focussing on the benefits of the IICSA to victims, not the internal politics of the inquiry – ultimately the truth that could be uncovered is much more important than petty politics."

"We have reached a point where the inquiry is almost facing its own investigation from the press, which is undermining the work of an inquiry that was established with the implicit goal of establishing whether public bodies had taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse."

"Many survivors pinned their hopes on the investigation to finally deliver justice after decades of inaction but there is now a feeling that the inquiry was set up to fail, with some survivor groups accusing the inquiry of cover-ups."

"While we must always remember the end goal of the inquiry, I do feel that there are questions that need to be answered at the very top of the inquiry – namely where is Ben Emmerson's replacement? He had done a lot of positive work in reaching out to survivors but since his resignation the inquiry has been trying to work without a lead counsel."

"Professor Jay has a proven track record of uncovering institutional failures, as she did so in Rotherham; however she does not have a legal background and should have someone sitting beside her that can advise on the points of law, until this happens I fear that her leadership could continue to be undermined by any developments in the inquiry."

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