As reported last night Dame Lowell Goddard has resigned from the IICSA. No formal reasons have been provided for her resignation. In a statement she has said that accepting the role “was ….. an incredibly difficult step to take, as it meant relinquishing my career in New Zealand and leaving behind my beloved family. The conduct of any public inquiry is not an easy task, let alone one of the magnitude of this. Compounding the many difficulties was its legacy of failure which has been very hard to shake off and with hindsight it would have been better to have started completely afresh. While it has been a struggle in many respects, I am confident there have been achievements and some very real gains for victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in getting their voices heard.”
This resignation follows shortly after the resignations of the Chair and a panel member in the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry and is of course the resignation of the third chair of the IICSA. In the past week criticism of Dame Goddard has intensified as the hearings progressed. The criticism has been about the approach of the Inquiry as to how and when it will make findings of fact; the breadth of the evidence being considered and how that impacts upon the progress of investigations; concerns about the timetable and when a report will be produced; personal criticism that Dame Goddard was not familiar with local law, about the extent of her remuneration package and the amount of time she had spent out of the UK.
Considering the personal criticisms, to a large degree they all stem from the fact that she is a Judge from a different jurisdiction and of course the rational for her appointment was that because of that she did not have links with the Establishment. The criticism of her lack of appropriate knowledge of local law arose in the hearing in the Janner investigation. Leicestershire police made an application during the course of the hearing asking for certain information about an ongoing police investigation to be kept confidential. It appears no notice of that application had been made, indeed counsel representing the police confirmed she had not known prior to the hearing that she would be asked to raise the issue. In considering that application, Dame Goddard asked for assistance from Ben Emmerson QC, counsel to the Inquiry, on the application of the Inquiry Act and the powers which she had. As counsel to the Inquiry Ben Emmerson’s role includes advising the panel and the Chair on legal issues. Dame Goddard said “this is not something that I can just do without a little bit more information, for instance as to what my powers are to order that the press are not to publish a matter that has been aired in a public hearing such as this.” It is not unusual for a Judge to seek guidance from presenting counsel and the criticism made of her that she does not know the local law has been widely exaggerated.
The remuneration package is indeed large and as seems to be the current trend comparison was made with the salary of the Prime Minister, although not with what would be the cost of her accommodation and travel package. As for the amount of time spent in the UK, an overseas appointee is likely to spend time overseas but just because she is not physically in the UK does not mean she is not working. Technology clearly allows that to happen wherever in the world she is. Those criticisms seem unduly harsh and were no doubt a contributing factor to her resignation, which has now left the Inquiry at least perceived to be in crisis.
The other concerns and criticisms arise from the scale of this Inquiry: the extremely wide terms of reference, described by Ben Emmerson last week as “the vast terrain”, and what that means for the number of individuals and organisations to be involved. At this stage, two years in to the Inquiry, it is unlikely that there will be changes to the terms of reference, or the process for the provision and consideration of evidence. It will be important for the new Chair to provide regular updates on what the Inquiry is doing and what its timescales are to avoid the potential for similar criticism in the future. All involved want certainty and progress.
In reality the day to day work of the Inquiry will now continue. There are over 150 staff in place; teams have been established for each of the investigations and the truth and research projects are all under way. 188 core participants have been designated. Evidence is being provided, over 35,000 documents to date. However it is very important for a new Chair to be appointed quickly to provide leadership and to prevent any delay. There are some functions which are solely allocated to the Chair and there are a number of decisions outstanding from last week’s hearings which the Chair needs to make. They include consideration of the many comments about the anonymity and redaction guidance, how that should be addressed to in particular avoid jigsaw identification. This needs determination promptly to facilitate sharing of evidence which will in turn allow the public hearings to proceed.
The outstanding decisions also include some further core participant applications including one from an organisation called the Survivors of Organised & Institutional Abuse (SOIA) who have applied to be a core participant across all the investigations. They argue that they should have that status to ensure that “survivors…. have a voice across these [i.e. all] modules that goes beyond the voice of the survivors themselves and their individual campaign groups for those individual modules where they have been granted core participant status. SOIA is prepared to work with other groups and, if allowed, to coordinate a survivor team”. SOIA “aims to bring a co-ordinated response to the upcoming Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and to facilitate the input of Survivors to the Inquiry.” SOIA has only recently been established by a group of survivor activists formed from within the White Flowers campaign. It is backed by Michael Mansfield QC and its website provides a link to a letter from Public Interest Lawyers, who this week have been the subject of criticism from others, offering to represent victims and survivors to become core participants. It is not clear what other survivor groups which have core participant status think of SOIA wanting to take on this over-arching role.
There are therefore some very important decisions which the new Chair will need to make and to make quickly. Dame Goddard has said in her resignation statement that with hindsight it might have been better to start afresh when she was appointed. It seems very unlikely that that will happen with the next Chair; too much time, energy and cost has been expended so far to make a fresh start a possibility. For those individuals and organisations already involved in or preparing for future involvement in the Inquiry their preparation should continue and most crucially all should be done to protect children now and in the future.
Paula Jefferson, Partner