The large scale inquiry into
historic child abuse in England and Wales has gotten off to a rocky start,
having lost both chairs successively due to a string of concerning disclosures
which tainted both Baroness Butler-Sloss and London Lord Mayor Fiona Woolf, but
what kind of inquiry is it and will it be able to make a meaningful impact for
those children who have suffered at the hands of paedophiles in the UK?
In June 2014, over 120 MPs wrote to the Home Secretary Theresa May,
asking her to set up an investigation into the growing number of historic child
abuse allegations in the United
Kingdom. The following month, May announced
Independent Panel Inquiry would be held which would “consider the extent to which State and non-State
institutions have failed in their duty of care to protect children from sexual
abuse and exploitation; to consider the extent to which those failings have
since been addressed; to identify further action needed to address any failings
identified; and to publish a report with recommendations.”
The inquiry itself is a
form of public inquiry, and under the current guidelines issued by the
government, will cover England and Wales (though not Northern Ireland), and
will consider matters from 1970 onwards, though there is remit to change this
time line if evidence is produced during the inquiry that would suggest a
rethink of the time frame. The inquiry’s age limit for child abuse victims is
18, though the inquiry will look at those over that age if the abuse started
when they were minors. Allegations of child abuse uncovered during the inquiry
will be passed on to the police, though Section 2 of the
Inquiries Act 2005 prohibits the inquiry from determining civil or criminal
liability. Nevertheless, the panel members are given some breathing space in
the Act, which allows them to carry out their functions uninhibited by any
likelihood of liability being inferred from determination of fact or
recommendations that they may make.
When choosing a panel
8 of the Inquiries Act tells us that the Minister responsible for selecting
him or her will have to have regard to that potential panel member’s expertise,
and where more than one panel member is being considered (notwithstanding the
inclusion of the Chairman), a balance on that panel must be sought – so that
the panel is well rounded and covers the necessary areas of expertise for the
context of the inquiry.
The Chairman too, is
subject to regulation and it is this regulation that has caused considerable
difficulty for the inquiry. Under Section 9 of the Inquiries Act 2005, we see
of Impartiality clause. This section reads:
Minister must not appoint a person as a member of the inquiry panel if it
appears to the Minister that the person has—
(a) a direct
interest in the matters to which the inquiry relates, or
(b) a close
association with an interested party,
despite the person's interest or association, his appointment could not
reasonably be regarded as affecting the impartiality of the inquiry panel.
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(2) Before a
person is appointed as a member of an inquiry panel he must notify the Minister
of any matters that, having regard to subsection (1), could affect his
eligibility for appointment.
(3) If at any
time (whether before the setting-up date or during the course of the inquiry) a
member of the inquiry panel becomes aware that he has an interest or
association falling within paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (1), he must
notify the Minister.
(4) A member
of the inquiry panel must not, during the course of the inquiry, undertake any
activity that could reasonably be regarded as affecting his suitability to
serve as such.