THE Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has denied that it is in chaos after its two senior lawyers both resigned.
The lead counsel to the Inquiry, Ben Emmerson QC, was suspended by IICSA on Thursday of last week after it had “become very concerned about aspects of [his] leadership; he resigned at 10 p.m.
On Friday, it was revealed that the IICSA’s first junior counsel, Elizabeth Prochaska, had resigned earlier in the month. Her departure had been kept secret.
In a statement, she said: “I can confirm that after 15 months working on the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, I resigned from my position as junior counsel with effect from September 15 2016.
“I very much valued the experience of working with the Inquiry and I wish all my former colleagues the best as they continue their work.”
Before his resignation, Mr Emmerson appointed the law firm Bindmans to represent him. They explained that he had learned about his suspension after reading about it on the internet. “If and when allegations are put to him, he will respond appropriately,” they said in a statement.
But later on Thursday evening, in a letter to the IICSA chair, Professor Alexis Jay, Mr Emmerson wrote: “Shortly after you took over, you announced a review of the Inquiry’s ways of working to identify any changes that may be necessary in the public interest. When you decided to re-appoint me as Counsel to the Inquiry in early September, I had my personal doubts about whether I was genuinely the right person to steer that review process.
“Since then, it has become clear to me that I am not the person to take this review forward on your behalf. It is now time for someone else to take the helm with a different leadership of the Counsel team. There is no truth in suggestions that I have resigned due to a difference of opinion with you about the next steps for the Inquiry.”
Accepting the resignation, Profesor Jay said: “Mr Emmerson has stepped down at this time because he considers that after two years at the helm it is now time for someone else to take the role forward and provide leadership for the counsel team.
“There is no truth in suggestions that he has resigned due to a difference of opinion with me about the next steps for the Inquiry.
“He will continue to be available to the Inquiry whilst his replacement is recruited and brought up to speed. I am pleased he continues to support the Inquiry’s aims and objectives. He has made an enormous contribution to the Inquiry and we wish him well.”
In a statement, the IICSA said that they were “aware that recent events are unsettling, particularly for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and all those who are engaged with the Inquiry’s work.”
They said: “It has been said that the Inquiry is in crisis. This is simply not the case, and the chair and panel are united in their determination to see this important work through to a conclusion.
“We are fortunate to have an excellent team of solicitors and barristers working for the Inquiry, and we are currently reviewing our approach to our investigations so that we can deliver results in a timely and effective way. Our terms of reference provide the flexibility needed to get on with the job of addressing institutional failure.”
The Church of England and the Church in Wales together form one strand of the IICSA’s separate investigations. The “Anglican Church” strand of the inquiry has so far held two preliminary hearings. The inquiry team are continuing to sift through documentary evidence submitted to it. No date or timescale has been set for any substantive hearings.