Panel and terms of reference announced
This morning the Home Secretary published a statement on the proposed child sex abuse inquiry and the appointment of the panel and its terms of reference – https://childsexualabuseinquiry.independent.gov.uk/ . The terms of reference are at https://childsexualabuseinquiry.independent.gov.uk/terms-of-reference/ as follows:
Terms of Reference
To 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.
In doing so to:
- consider all the information which is available from the various published and unpublished reviews, court cases, investigations etc. (hereinafter “the reports”) which have so far concluded;
- consider whether such institutions failed to identify such abuse and/or whether there was otherwise an inappropriate institutional response to allegations of child abuse and/or whether there were ineffective child protection procedures in place;
- advise on any further action needed to address any institutional gaps or failings within our current child protection systems on the basis of the findings and lessons learnt from these reports;
- disclose, where appropriate and in line with security and data protection protocols, any documents which were considered as part of the inquiry; and
- publish a report with recommendations.
State and non-State institutions. Such institutions will, for example, include:
- Government departments, Parliament and Ministers;
- Police, prosecuting authorities, schools including private and state-funded boarding and day schools, Local Authorities including care homes and children’s services, health services, prisons/secure estates;
- Churches and other religious denominations and organisations;
- Political Parties;
- The Armed Services.
The Inquiry Panel will cover England and Wales. Should the Inquiry Panel identify any material relating to the devolved administrations, it will be passed to the relevant authorities;
The Inquiry Panel will consider these matters from 1970 to the present. However, the Inquiry Panel may be presented with evidence that will lead it to conclude that this timeframe should be extended further;
For the purposes of this Inquiry “child” means anyone under the age of 18. However, the panel will consider abuse of individuals over the age of 18, if that abuse started when the individual was a minor.
The Inquiry Panel will have full access to all the material it seeks, unless there is a statutory impediment to it doing so;
Any allegation of child abuse received by the Inquiry Panel will be referred to the Police;
All personal and sensitive information will be appropriately protected; and will be made available only to those who need to see it;
It is not part of the Inquiry’s function to determine civil or criminal liability of named individuals or organisations. This should not, however, inhibit the Inquiry from reaching findings of fact relevant to its terms of reference.
The inquiry remains non-statutory.
All panel members – in mid-October 2014 – made a declaration concerning their impartiality (ie scope for bias) and relevant experience.
Home Secretary’s announcement of inquiry
This contrasts with what was said by Mrs May when she announced the enquiry on 7 July 2014. She stressed that the inquiry was to relate to the ‘evidence of the sexual abuse of children was suppressed by people in positions of power’; and then went on to set three ‘important principles’:
- First, we will do everything we can to allow the full investigation of child abuse and the prosecution of its perpetrators, and we will do nothing to jeopardise those aims.
- Second, where possible the government will adopt a presumption of maximum transparency.
- And third, we will make sure that wherever individuals and institutions have failed to protect children from harm, we will expose these failures and learn the lessons….
She went on to speak of persistent abuse and of the failure by public bodies
… to take their duty of care seriously and some have shown that the organisations responsible for protecting children from abuse – including the police, social services and schools – have failed to work together properly….
She concluded that:
…where there has been a failure to protect children from abuse, we will expose it and we will learn from it. I believe that the measures announced today do reflect those important principles. And so I commend this statement to the House.
Survivor’s evidence and their terms of reference
Though nothing is said in the terms of reference as to evidence from survivors, it is mentioned tucked away in a part of the Home Office’s document that the panel with consider how the evidence of survivors should be received (https://childsexualabuseinquiry.independent.gov.uk/further-information/ ). There seems to be no real expectation that individual survivors will be heard. Still less is it clear – under these terms of reference – how evidence from those in authority will be inquired into, their evidence heard and so on by the panel.
The survivors own present draft terms of reference is at https://dbfamilylaw.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/csainquiry-draft-terms-of-reference-iii/ and includes, in addition to the above, such items as – and much more:
Part 1: Past events
- Definition of the organisations and their administration (including recruitment and supervision of staff), management, governance and institutions and any other establishments caring for children, where child sexual abuse has been alleged, in the period under review.
- Consider whether child protection aspects of all institutions and establishments were fully appropriate (in objective and modern terms) to meet the proper needs of children and their safeguarding and protection.
- Examine and inquire fully as to any political and other oversight of children’s homes, fostering services schools and other establishments run by any public body concerned with child protection (eg local authorities and government departments and ministers). For the avoidance of doubt this aspect of the inquiry will require that witnesses be examined publically as to their involvement (and is likely to involve examination of former government ministers and other local and national politicians).
- Define all other relevant independent investigations and reports conducted in response to child sexual abuse issues in the period under review.
- Consider the personal experiences of those witnesses who suffered abuse or allege abuse, and hear from staff who worked in these services, together with any other relevant witnesses. It will be for the inquiry to determine, by balancing the interests of justice and the public interest against the presumption of openness, whether, and to what extent, all or any of the evidence given to it should be given in private.
- Consider and define
- to what extent systems now exist to enable children and others who allege child sexual abuse to raise concerns and safeguard each individual child’s wellbeing;
- whether these systems are adequate; and
- if not to identify such failings as in the inquiry’s opinion there were.
- Review the actions of the agencies of the government, the justice system and politicians during the period under review, in particular when concerns came to light about child sexual abuse and how they were responded to by the agencies who should have responded.
Part 2: Recommendations
- Review fully present procedures and practices, and hear from appropriate individuals and representative and public bodies as to what their recommendations would be.
- Make full recommendations – including further primary and delegated legislation and statutory guidance – to ensure as far as possible that responses to such child sexual abuse as is identified by the inquiry never happens again.
- To make recommendations as to how criminal and family court proceedings can be co-ordinated and operate for the maximum benefit of the welfare of children (including how their evidence should be adduced in any civil or criminal court).
The ‘recommendations’ above deliberately leave the subjects for report and recommendation reasonably wide, but with some guidance. The present TOR is limited to the lame and unspecific ‘publish a report with recommendations’.
The extent of the panel’s work remains unspecific, the way it will operate is left vague – perhaps subject to close supervision – manipulation, even? – by the Home Secretary. Much remains to be explained and defined if this inquiry is to do the job it could – that it should – do; and if it is to perform the role it could perform to set up proposals which could protect future generations of children.