Safeguarding and the Goddard Inquiry

In February the Home Secretary announced the appointment of Justice Lowell Goddard, a New Zealand High Court Judge, as Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. It was set up on 12 March; and Maria Strauss, of Farrer & Co, has kindly provided this guest post to mark its inauguration.

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The Goddard Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

On 4 February 2015, Home Secretary Theresa May announced that she would be appointing Justice Lowell Goddard, a judge of the New Zealand High Court, as Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse established under the Inquiries Act 2005. Ms Justice Goddard took her position on 13 April 2015. The Inquiry has its own official website.

The Inquiry opened officially on 9 July 2015. Ms Justice Goddard gave an opening statement with details of the Inquiry’s aims, structure and approach. My colleague Adele Eastman has written a comprehensive note summarising the key points, terms of reference and other matters all of which are applicable to Churches and religious organisations.

Key points on the Inquiry

 The Inquiry has these terms of reference:

  • to consider the extent to which State and non-State institutions in England and Wales 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;
  • to consider the steps which it is necessary for State and non-State institutions to take in order to protect children from such abuse in future; and
  • to publish a report with recommendations.

The Inquiry is calling for information from victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, as well as “from those involved or formerly involved in the care of children, and from institutions under investigation.” Justice Goddard confirmed that the Inquiry has no cut-off date and that it “may require inquiries to be made about events occurring many years or even decades ago.” There is a suggestion that the Inquiry will go as far back as 1945. However, she explained that it is her “sincere hope and expectation that it will be possible to conclude the Inquiry’s work before the end of 2020.” In the meantime, starting from 2016 the Inquiry will publish regular annual reports containing recommendations. It will also publish more frequent updates on its work as it progresses.

The Inquiry will be broken down into 5 sections:

  • Abuse by people of prominence in public life (led by Justice Goddard herself). This will deal with central Government, Parliament and well-known political figures.
  • Education and religion (led by Panel member Professor Malcolm Evans, of Bristol University).
  • Criminal justice and law enforcement.
  • Local authorities and voluntary organisations.
  • National and private service organisations. Insurance companies who have settled legal cases will be subject to the Inquiry under this head.

5 cases/institutions will be examined in each sector.

 The Inquiry will consist of three ‘projects’:

  • The Research Project is already under way and will involve a review of the published work addressing institutional failures in child protection. It will commission sector-specific research to understand the scale of the problem and to identify recommendations for change.
  • The Truth Project, which will start in October this year, is to allow victims and survivors to share their experiences with the Inquiry, either anonymously, by letter or in person. Their accounts will be taken and they will be invited to leave an anonymised message which will be published alongside the Inquiry’s reports.
  • The Public Hearings Project is to start early next year. This is the more conventional part of the Inquiry, where witnesses will give evidence (victims and the institutions) and bundles will be prepared. Each of these hearings will last 6 weeks and the Project expects to hold up to 30 hearings.

There will be a Victims and Survivors’ Consultative Panel who will advise the Inquiry on its engagement with victims.

Scope

Justice Goddard has already notified government, local authorities, police, independent and state schools, health services, prison services, political parties, the armed services and churches and religious organisations about the Inquiry and made clear that whether institutions have received a letter from the Inquiry or not, they are expected to abide by the messages given in the opening statement.

At the same time, Operation Hydrant, a dedicated national police team established last summer, is coordinating multiple historical child sexual abuse investigations around the country. A team from Operation Hydrant is liaising closely with the Inquiry and sharing information to support its work. The officer leading Operation Hydrant has indicated that the number of victims could run into the hundreds of thousands.

Recommended actions

At this time, Churches and other religious organisations are already taking legal advice and retaining Counsel. The legal advice generally is about the impact of the Inquiry, the law relating to Inquiries and their strategy for engaging with it.

In addition, institutions should now ensure that all material that could be relevant to the Inquiry is securely retained. For those wondering about retention of records and data protection on child protection records, this note on the recent judgment in R(C) and Northumberland County Council (NCC) and The Information Commissioner [2015] EWHC (Admin) 2134 might be helpful.

Cite this article as: Maria Strauss, “Safeguarding and the Goddard Inquiry” in Law & Religion UK, 6 August 2015 https://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2015/08/06/safeguarding-and-the-goddard-inquiry/.

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