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Professor Alexis Jay appointed to sort out Church of England’s safeguarding

20 July 2023

Former IICSA chair to develop plan for independent oversight, Archbishops announce

IICSA

Professor Alexis Jay

Professor Alexis Jay

THE chair of the now concluded Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IISCA), Professor Alexis Jay, is to develop proposals for a “fully independent structure to provide scrutiny of safeguarding” in the Church of England.

She will be supported by the former secretary to IICSA, John O’Brien.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York made the announcement on Thursday. 

Professor Jay led the national inquiry, established in 2015, into the extent to which institutions had failed to protect children from child sexual abuse. The inquiry sifted through thousands of documents of evidence and conducted dozens of hearings (News, 19 August 2016). This included detailed investigations into, and case studies of, abuse perpetrated in the Church of England and the Church in Wales, and the response of the Churches at the time and since (News, 9 October 2020).

Among the conclusions of the inquiry’s final report, published in October 2022, was that mandatory reporting should be introduced to protect the 13 million children in England and Wales from the “vile and degrading” abuse found in institutions across the country (News, 21 October 2022).

In a joint statement on Thursday, the Archbishops said that the appointment would help the Church to “move quickly towards objective, independent, credible and resilient oversight of safeguarding” and that “This work will be entirely in their hands and fully external and independent; we will welcome the scrutiny and challenge that rightly comes with that.”

The announcement comes after weeks of turmoil in church safeguarding. Last month, the Archbishops’ Council disbanded the Church’s Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) and sacked its members after almost a year of internal disputes over the Board’s independence, and the facts have been strongly disputed on all sides. The débâcle came to a head at the General Synod last weekend (News, 14 July) and resulted in the resignation of the Board’s acting chair from all safeguarding responsibilities in the Church (News, 14 July).

In their statement this week, Archbishops Welby and Cottrell pledged “to work as quickly as we can to get independent oversight of safeguarding back on track. We continue to reflect on recent events and this development is an important part of our safeguarding work with victims and survivors, children, and vulnerable adults, as we make the Church a safer place for all.”

In her own statement, Professor Jay said that, “if I detect any attempt to interfere with or to hinder my work, I will withdraw from this programme of work immediately.”

She said that, when she was chair of IICSA, “I heard at first hand of the devastating effects of abuse within the Church of England, and of the failures, often repeated, to prevent it from occurring. I was very clear in my recommendations that safeguarding in the Church would require genuine independence in order to be fully effective.

“I have been just as clear with the Archbishop of Canterbury and with the Archbishop of York that this programme of work must be entirely independent of the Church too for it to succeed.” 

She continued: “My work will be fair, impartial, objective, and rigorous. One of my first tasks will be to hear the views of victims and survivors of church abuse, and to listen to those involved in safeguarding at all levels of the Church across England.”  

The Archbishops said that the appointment had been “discussed in depth” at the most recent meeting of the Archbishops’ Council this week, “and there was collective agreement about this being an important next step in the work on independent scrutiny. We have asked Professor Jay to give us independent and rigorous recommendations for achieving this urgent and vital outcome.”

The Archbishops and the lead safeguarding bishop, the Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell, have asked Professor Jay and Mr O’Brien to produce a report on the Church’s “Future Safeguarding Programme” by the end of the year, the announcement says.

This will most probably take the form of an options appraisal, but with a direct recommendation about a preferred model for the new body. The report will then be considered by the Archbishops’ Council, the House of Bishops, and the General Synod, who will ultimately make decisions on which model to take forward.

The Archbishops, the announcement explains, then propose to consult Professor Jay and Mr O’Brien again, “about implementing the chosen model so that the establishment of the body is accomplished with the same degree of independence”.

The terms of reference of the report are: to provide options and recommendations for forming an independent safeguarding scrutiny body for the Church; to make any recommendations for how further independence of safeguarding might be achieved; and to make any other recommendations that are necessary or appropriate.

Professor Jay and Mr O’Brien have also been asked to “consult widely with stakeholders both inside and outside” the Church throughout their work.

Professor Jay continued: “I would like to assure everyone that I mean what I say. My team will not include anyone employed by the Church, nor will we hold meetings or conduct any business on church premises. . . 

It is imperative that the Church of England makes rapid and demonstrable progress on introducing genuinely independent safeguarding. Victims and survivors of abuse, people who work or volunteer within the church, and children and adults who come into contact with the Church in many different ways deserve nothing less.”

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