Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Will victims voices be properly heard in the new child abuse inquiry?

Teresay May's Parliamentary announcement
In the last few days, there has been prolific media coverage regarding child abuse investigations and inquiries into historical abuse allegations in institutions around the UK. 

The home secretary has announced a wide-ranging, Hillsborough-style inquiry into historic child sex abuse claims, “to consider whether public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children”.  Baroness Butler-Sloss was announced on Tuesday as head of this inquiry, the details of which are still being scoped.

It’s thought likely to be a documentary inquiry rather than hearing from actual witnesses. If this is the case then the victims of abuse will not be heard, which in my experience as an abuse lawyer, is exactly what survivors of abuse desire the most, to be listened to.

In my view, in order to arrive at an ideal format for the inquiry, perhaps they should look at the institutional abuse inquiries in Northern and Southern Ireland.  They should select the best parts of each of these, both of which heard from survivors, who after all are at the core of the matter. I have already blogged about this subject here and here

The Home Office review is an investigation into the handling of documents relating to claims of a paedophile ring at Westminster in the 1980s.  Home Secretary Theresa May has appointed the head of the NSPCC, Peter Wanless to lead an investigation, the results of which is expected within 10 weeks.

When this inquiry was announced I was asked by various radio and TV news programmes for my views on it as an abuse lawyer.

Before it was announced that the inquiry would be led by the NSPCC, it was initially said that it would be a lawyer led inquiry.  I wonder whether the charity will have enough powers to carry out all that is required, for example, being able to demand access to documents held by government.  If the inquiry is to be forensic in nature, as I believe it should be, is the CEO of a charity the right person to deal with it?   Wouldn’t it be better led by a judge who is more likely to have a forensic approach to tracing documents and what has become of them?

Teresa May said she could turn it into a public enquiry if Peter Wanless thought it appropriate. Why not announce a public enquiry straight away? At least then everything would be out in the open, and much needed transparency achieved.

If the enquiry is not public then the chances of a further cover up being suspected are that much more likely.

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