The Home Affairs Select Committee has today published a report in to the work of the IICSA. Its focus is on its independence and accountability; Dame Lowell Goddard; Counsel to the Inquiry; IICSA’s duty of care to those working on the Inquiry; the role of the Committee in scrutinising the work of the IICSA; and the future approach to the Inquiry’s work.
The Committee has written to all of the counsel who have left the Inquiry and to some current members of the legal team. It asked a series of questions about the past and future work of the Inquiry. Despite suggestions earlier in the week that responses to those letters would provide an insight in to Inquiry and focus on some of the comments and allegations aired at the time and following resignations, in fact most of those contacted have indicated that as a result of contractual confidentiality and legal privilege they cannot answer the questions posed.
The Committee has however still sought to comment as far as it can. It has reiterated the importance of the IICSA being independent which is considered vital to the credibility of its work. However it is noted that that does not absolve it from the need for transparency, accountability and scrutiny. These are themes returned to on a number of occasions in the report. It is stated that there should be greater transparency about the Inquiry’s approach and greater public clarity about the different kinds of work it is undertaking, not least as that would be seen to benefit survivor groups.
The report notes Dame Goddard’s refusal to give oral evidence to the Committee, even having been offered the option to do so by video-link. The Committee consider that to be “disgraceful” and has said that should she travel to the UK in the future they would look to invoke parliamentary procedures to seek to summon her to give oral evidence. No further information is given or conclusions reached about the allegations against Ben Emmerson QC. However the report notes that the Committee did receive a confidential submission relating to the incident which had helped it understand the incident and the way in which it had been dealt with. A suggestion is made that an external person with senior legal experience is appointed to examine the events leading to Mr Emmerson’s resignation.
Consideration is made of the way the Inquiry is working and how it should proceed in the future. The slow progress to date in engaging directly with survivors is considered a significant weakness in its work and is something which must be addressed if the Inquiry is going to build the confidence of survivors in its ability to deliver on its objectives and maintain their engagement with its work. The report also considers the tensions between the judicial approach of consideration of historic events and the thematic assessments of current institutional polices and practices which lend themselves to an inspectorate-style approach. The Committee seeks determination of the Chair’s review and notes that she needs to provide clarity about how the work of the Inquiry will proceed.
Finally the report notes the departure of experienced counsel at an alarming rate and seeks the appointment of new counsel at the earliest opportunity and to be someone with leadership, experience and prestige to command the confidence of victims and survivor.
Overall the report expresses many of the frustrations already highlighted by many that the Inquiry needs to decide how it will continue its work and for progress to be seen to be made.
In response Prof Jay has said she will publish her review conclusions in the coming weeks. She has said she will also invite a senior legal figure to review some of the issues raised in the report.
Written by Paula Jefferson, partner