PROFESSOR ALEXIS JAY will take the chair for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales (IICSA) vacated suddenly earlier this month by Justice Lowell Goddard (News, 12 August). The appointment was announced by the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, on Thursday of last week.
Professor Jay is a child-protection expert with 30 years’ experience in the field. She led the Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham, and was already a member of the IICSA panel.
An investigation into the Church of England and Church in Wales is one of 13 separate investigations being carried out by the Inquiry. The investigation into what the Inquiry terms “the Anglican Church in England and Wales” will look in particular into the adequacy of the C of E’s Past Cases Review and the Church in Wales’s Historic Cases Review, besides studying “the experience of the diocese of Chichester, where there have been multiple allegations of sexual abuse, and numerous investigations and reviews”.
Professor Jay said last week: “I am committed to ensuring this inquiry does everything it has set out to do, and does so with pace, with confidence, and with clarity.
“Be in no doubt: the inquiry is open for business, and people are busier than ever, working hard to increase momentum. The panel and I are determined to make progress on all parts of the inquiry’s work, including speaking to victims and survivors.
“I am determined to overcome the challenges along the way. I will lead the largest public inquiry of its kind, and, together with my fellow panel members, we will fearlessly examine institutional failures, past and present, and make recommendations so that the children of England and Wales are better protected now and in the future.”
Making the announcement, Ms Rudd said that the inquiry “has a vital role to play in exposing the failure of public bodies and other major organisations to prevent systematic child sexual abuse.
“I’m delighted Professor Alexis Jay has agreed to chair the inquiry. She has a strong track record in uncovering the truth, and I have no doubt she will run this independent inquiry with vigour, compassion, and courage.
“Let there be no doubt: our commitment to this inquiry is undiminished. We owe it to victims and survivors to confront the appalling reality of how children were let down by the very people who were charged to protect them, and to learn from the mistakes of the past.”
No reason was given for Justice Goddard’s resignation. Just hours before the announcement earlier this month, she had invited victims’ views on criminal compensation and the civil justice system, saying: “Many victims and survivors of child sexual-abuse may be seeking more than financial compensation, or outcomes other than those currently available through the civil justice system in England and Wales.
“We want to examine whether, and how effective, current systems and processes are, and hear about the broader outcomes people may want to see.”
In her letter to the Home Secretary, which was subsequently released by the Home Office, Justice Goddard said simply: “I regret to advise that I am offering you my resignation as chair of the [Inquiry] with immediate effect. I trust you will accept this decision.”
In her response, Ms Rudd described the IICSA as “the most ambitious public inquiry ever established in England and Wales”. She wrote: “I know how personally committed you have been to ensuring that the Inquiry is a success for those at its heart: the survivors and the victims. You have consistently demonstrated your desire to leave no stone unturned in order that the voices of those victims might be heard.”
The Mail on Sunday reported on 7 August that Justice Goddard did not resign voluntarily, and was effectively sacked after losing the confidence of the Inquiry’s panel and senior staff.
In the week leading up to Justice Goddard’s resignation, she had come under sustained criticism by some national newspapers and legal commentators over her remuneration package, the amount of time she had spent abroad in the inquiry’s first year, and a perceived lack of understanding of her powers as an inquiry chair in English law.
The Home Affairs Select Committee has asked both Justice Goddard and the Home Secretary to appear before it in September to explain the decision.
Responding to Justice Goddard’s resignation, a C of E spokeswoman said that the Church was “fully committed” to supporting the Inquiry, and welcomed “the important work it has done so far in hearing the voices of survivors and looking at institutional failings.”
She said: “The Archbishop of Canterbury requested that the Church be one of the first institutions to be considered in the work of the Inquiry, and we will continue to work in a constructive and transparent manner with the new chairperson when appointed.”
The Children’s Society’s chief executive, Matthew Reed, said that the “crucial work” of the Inquiry “must not be derailed by the departure of the chair. . . For the sake of victims of abuse, it is important that progress is made quickly to appoint a new chair.
“However, there have now been three chairs appointed since the inquiry was first announced. Given this, it is equally important to ensure the new chair is the right person for the task ahead.”