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.