Tuesday, 11 November 2014

A young judge may be the ideal person to chair the UK Child Abuse Inquiry

There has recently been a ferment of discussion about what type of person might chair the Child Abuse Inquiry with a raft of individual names being put forward. This discussion has taken place in venues as diverse as Twitter and the House of Commons and its Home Affairs Select Committee.

There are many factors to consider. But I'll cut to the chase ...

My suggestion is to appoint a young judge s Chair of the Child Abuse Inquiry.

With appropriate checks and balances in place this seems to me to be the most credible solution.

I recognise that any judge has links to the Establishment and, if I'm correct that the judiciary is a body which has been culpable in the past, the possibility exists that professional loyalty could taint the work of an inquiry chaired by a judge.

I would not favour appointment of a judge as Chair in the absence of suitable safeguards.

First, by appointing a young judge any "tricks" by the judge during the period of the inquiry could, and I think would, come back to haunt him or her for the rest of his or her career as a judge.

A judge caught in trickery could no longer be a credible arbiter in a Court of Law, I believe. His (or her) career would be brought to an abrupt halt.

The age of the judge thus provides one safeguard but I do not think that is sufficient.

I believe that two other safeguards need to be put in place.

  1. A "Public Panel" should be appointed which I envisage as being a group of interested (and hopefully skilled) researchers and survivors which would, in effect, "keep the Inquiry Panel, including the Chair, honest".
  2. A principle of "Total Transparency" would apply throughout. Anything that the Inquiry Panel does or sees is also seen by or available to the "Public Panel".
Some suitable agreement seems likely to be needed to ensure that the "Public Panel" preserves confidentiality of, for example, survivor identities (except where a survivor chooses to go public).

However, if any trickery by he Chair or any member of the Inquiry Panel wer tried the "Public Panel" would be well placed to spot it.

The precise role of a "Public Panel" would need further discussion. But one of its (several?) key functions, in my view, would be to "keep the Inquiry Panel honest".

I have previously stated that a principle of "non-trust" is the rational basis from which to proceed. See
Non-trust is the rational approach to the UK Child Abuse Inquiry

Even assuming "non-trust" and, among at least some groups, active mistrust of a judge as Chair these safeguards seem to me to make a young judge a credible candidate to chair the Child Abuse Inquiry.

It seems to me that a young judge as Chair would provide a solution to several issues:

  1. The possible need for a judge to head a statutory inquiry or Royal Commission
  2. The need for a Chair with a legal training who has the ability rapidly to master huge volumes of data
  3. The absence of trust in the judicary by at least some survivor groups and some of the Twitterati.

Choice of Chair for a Child Abuse Inquiry is only one of several problems that need to be solved. In a future post I'll put forward some suggestions as to the composition of the Inquiry Panel that seems to me to meet the needs of various constituencies and which has an appropriate range of skills to meet the needs of an inquiry as complex as the Child Abuse Inquiry is likely to be.

Comments on the suggestion of a young judge, as outlined above would be welcome.

I don't pretend that I've thought of every relevant issue. But this suggestion of a young judge as Chair  seems to me to meet more of the widely circulating objections or controversies than any other I have heard discussed.

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