No shame in standing down

We write to suggest that it is time for you to review your position as chair of the child sex abuse inquiry and to resign. There is no shame in that. It sounds, from your session with the Home Affairs Select Committee, as though the first approach from the Home Secretary was brief. Now you know more about the job and have considered it in the light of your other commitments and your expertise (and that you may be nearly 70 when it is finished), you can honestly say you know you are not the appropriate person for the role.

Upon your resignation we urge you to recommend the following to the Home Secretary: first, that she appoints a specialist family law High Court (or higher) judge to take your place; secondly, that this inquiry is now set up formally under Inquiries Act 2005; and, thirdly, that in so doing the Home Secretary recognises (as we shall explain) that the panel she has appointed may be experts as witnesses or assessors.

We think your links with people such as Lord and Lady Brittan made your position untenable from the start; but we do not wish to deal on that here. We focus on your expertise.

Review of children law for the 21st century

The recommendations from this inquiry provide an opportunity to focus on the working of Children Act 1989 (especially Part 3) and Children Act 2004 Part 4; and to review their working in a truly radical way. It sounds as though you may not even have read these statutory provisions, still less that you are familiar with them. It goes much further than Acts of Parliament. There is a forest of guidance (eg that issued recently by the police, President of the Family Division etc), delegated legislation, relevant case law and so on. You need a close familiarity with, for example, the inter-agency operation in individual areas and Working Together to Safeguard Children (March 2013); and with the inter-agency relationships, and their inter-action with criminal and family courts.

You do not have this. It would be professionally disingenuous, we believe, to suggest you do have the expertise. You are, after all, presented by the Home Secretary as a lawyer; but from a very different field. In European countries you would be a notary; whereas the role required is of an advocate which is the back-ground from which judges come. Perhaps you could explain this to the Home Secretary and that sitting occasionally as a magistrate – ie a lay-person – only re-enforces the point.

Confidence of survivors

Survivors need someone in whom they have confidence. You did not assist yourself by calling them ‘victims’ and by asserting that you are not part of the ‘establishment’. You cannot represent the survivors. Indeed as a chair of an inquiry you should represent no one. That is a serious misunderstanding of your role. A judge represents no-one but the law s/he upholds.  Tribunal chair is in the same adjudicative position.

Finally, and in fairness to you, you are a lawyer. We therefore ask you to draw to the Home Secretary’s attention the very real difference between the inquiry chair, whose job is judicial and inquisitorial; and that of the specialists, independent expert witnesses, and lay witnesses – survivors, politicians, police, social workers and many others in authority – on whom the inquiry must call and from whom it must hear evidence. The present panel is composed of a confusing mixture of individuals who are not there in a judicial capacity. At most two or three could be with the chair as assessors; but a judge as chair can decide that later. A wide panel only divides, and thus confuses its rule – surely?

Please resign now: you will be respected for it. If you continue you will seriously lame the inquiry from its start.

9 thoughts on “#CSAINQUIRY: FIONA WOOLF: PLEASE RESIGN – draft letter

  1. Reblogged this on Bits of Books, Mostly Biographies and commented:
    A very polite, well-drafted, necessary request. Let’s hope the response is as clear and as swift in recognition of the fact that any more damage to the CSA Inquiry through this appointment will start to reach further than the NY Times. The basis of when Woolf will ‘upgrade’ to a public inquiry on a statutory basis as asked at the HASC? When it gets “sticky.” Doesn’t seem like the most well-prepared or thoughtful consideration of the question. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/24/world/europe/head-of-inquiry-into-child-abuse-in-britain-faces-a-legal-challenge.html?_r=1

  2. Hi – I think the letter is good. Thank you so much for drafting this and the time you are putting into this campaign. I’d suggest taking out the reference to how old Fiona Woolf will be when the Inquiry is likely to conclude. Age would and should be immaterial if she were the right person. Best wishes

  3. You’ve missed an even more obvious appointment to this committee that suggests a cover-up Nortah Gibbons formerly of Barnardos who have a history both of sexual abuse in their homes and of cover-up. Paul Gambaccini has been released from bail without the 74 year old arrested with him being named. I suspect that that man was Roddaam Twiss ,son of a former Black Rod who sexually abused children in Barnardos homes in Croydon which Barnardos coveredit up. He went on to seriously abuse other boys in a school where he taught but who did not cover it up . Her and Gambaccini were pals for years especially in the “Rent Boy” market where Tweiss went by the name “The Teacher” a reference to his days abusing boys in schools.If you were looking for an establishment organisation they come no better than Barnardos and if you are looking at “Historic” abuse look at the enquiry into Barnardos and the abuse suffered by children :Transported” to Australia. But you do not have to go so far was the antipodes. PSTS a school they ran in Poole Dorse was abuse on a scale that went over the Richter scale.Only a few months ago in Leeds Barnardos were exposed as telling a young girl that she was responsible for the abuse she suffered and many of the children abused by Cyril Smithh were abused in the Rochdale Barnardos home.

    Grahame G Bell

    • Many thanks – though I wasn’t trying to be exhaustive on dislcosures by panel members: that’s not really my expertise. I am merely concerned that they do disclose; and, if they don’t, what can be done about it.

  4. In her evidence when she was questioned by the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, Fiona Woolf acknowledged that in circumstances where security interests and the right of vulnerable children not to be subjected to abuse were in conflict, it was appropriate for her to be told to be silent on the matter even though it was a matter of concern for her. Given the security-related nature of some of the the allegations the Inquiry is likely to be asked to consider even within the limited geographical scope of its Terms of Reference, this should disqualify her.

    She has publicly acknowledged that the course of her career has been shaped by her understanding how the client’s wish to proceed with a course of action unhindered is as important to the lawyer as the theoretical legal position. While such an attitude of compromise and mediation may have stood her in good stead as a commercial lawyer it is inappropriate to an investigation in which the willingness of institutions to condone and allow the criminal abuse of children is the prime subject of interest.

    Fiona Woolf should withdraw. Otherwise the United Kingdom should consider withdrawing from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

    • Sorry, that wasn’t very constructive as far as your polite letter of invitation was concerned, but I think it’s starting to look likely that she has been a willing stooge of delaying tactics and politeness may no longer be appropriate.

      Whatever, I’m glad you have removed the reference to age.

  5. Pingback: A Fortnight in the Life of the Overarching Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry. Where now? | cathyfox

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