Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Inquiry Panel and Keith Vaz must go - Letter to Theresa May and Mark Sedwill

This post largely consists of a letter sent earlier today to Theresa May and Mark Sedwill.

I ask them to dismiss the Child Abuse Inquiry Panel due to the appointment process being both irrational and irregular, with results which are not remediable other than by dismissing at least several of the current Inquiry Panel.

I also ask them to give serious consideration to new problems for the appointment of an Inquiry Chair caused by the perceived conflicts of interest of Keith Vaz MP.

Here is the text of the letter.

13th November 2014

Theresa May, Home Secretary
Mark Sedwill, Permanent Secretary, Home Office

Dear Mrs. May and Mr. Sedwill,
Child Abuse Inquiry concerns
  1. The Inquiry Panel must be dismissed
  2. Confirmation hearings – conflicts of interest of Keith Vaz MP
I write to bring to your urgent attention  two aspects of the Child Abuse Inquiry which are of serious concern:
  1. the Inquiry, contrary to Mrs. May’s statements to the House of Commons, cannot lawfully be converted to a statutory inquiry as described in the Inquiries Act 2005.
  2. the confirmation hearings proposed by Mrs. May raise serious concerns given the past associations and/or conflicts of interest of Keith Vaz MP.

With respect to the first point of concern I ask that you forthwith dismiss the Panel currently appointed to the Child Abuse Inquiry.
With respect to the second point of concern I ask that you give careful consideration as to whether credible confirmation hearings can be held while the Home Affairs Select Committee is chaired by Mr. Vaz.
The Child Abuse Inquiry Panel must be dismissed
Mrs. May informed the House of Commons that the Child Abuse Inquiry can be converted to a statutory inquiry at the request of the future Chair.
I do not believe that conversion to a statutory inquiry can be lawfully carried out.
I hold that view since the manner in which the Panel has been appointed is both irrational and irregular.
Section 9 of the Inquiries Act 2005
Mrs. May has said that if the Inquiry Chair asks that the Inquiry is converted to a statutory inquiry that it will be done.
However, in my view the appointment of the Inquiry Panel has been done in a manner which is both irregular and irrational.
The current Panel could not, in my view, continue in place if an Inquiries Act 2005 Inquiry is established.
The criteria in Subsection 9(1)
The relevant text is here for convenience:
(1)The Minister must not appoint a person as a member of the inquiry panel if it appears to the Minister that the person has—
(a)a direct interest in the matters to which the inquiry relates, or
(b)a close association with an interested party,
unless, despite the person's interest or association, his appointment could not reasonably be regarded as affecting the impartiality of the inquiry panel.
The criteria in Subsection 9(1)(a)
Some members of the Inquiry Panel are survivors of child abuse.
It seems to me to be inescapable that survivors have a “direct interest” in the matters to which the inquiry relates.
Other Inquiry Panel members have, by virtue of past employment, a “direct interest” in the matters to which the inquiry relates. Indeed, for some, the organisation which previously employed them may be the subject of scrutiny. To my mind this creates the spectre of glaring conflicts of interest.
Further, it seems to me that in their letters to the Home Secretary some Panel members have provided a wholly unreliable self-assessment on this matter.
In any case it is irregular for the Panel members to self-assess. Section 9 requires that the assessment be carried out by the Secretary of State. To the best of my knowledge the Secretary of State has made no such assessment.
The criteria in Subsection 9(1)(b)
Subsection 9(1)(b) precludes appointment as a Panel member of anyone with a close association with an “interested party”.
Are “interested parties” persons or organisations? There is no public indication that the question has been considered. I suspect that the correct answer is both.
Has a list of “interested parties” been compiled? There is no public indication that any such list of interested parties (or potential interested parties) has been compiled.
In the absence of such a list it is irrational to appoint anyone to be a Panel member since, in the absence of a list of interested parties, no rational assessment of whether or not a “close association” exists can be made.
It seems to me that, for example, past employment by an “interested party” is a “close association”.
Without a list of organisational (and perhaps personal) “interested parties” it is irrational to appoint to the Inquiry Panel.
The need to dismiss the Panel
The process by which the Inquiry Panel has been appointed has been both irrational and irregular.
These failures are not remediable since at least some members of the Inquiry Panel have “direct interests” in the matters which the Inquiry is to address.
I ask that you obtain as a matter of urgency counsel’s opinon on these foundational matters.
These issues won’t go away. There is, for example, a Judicial Review process underway.
There is a principle in crisis management that the organisation must acknowledge all failures immediately and openly.
To attempt to fight on only makes matters worse.
It seems to me that the Home Office is in a very difficult position, in my view indeed a crisis, because of poor decision making in the early stages of establishing the Child Abuse Inquiry, including in the appointment of the Inquiry Panel.
The Home Office should act now and dismiss the Inquiry Panel.
Create a better inquiry
If the existing non-statutory Inquiry is abandoned, as I think it must be, then there is an opportunity for a significantly better inquiry into Child Abuse to be established.
In that context I offer some highly compressed comments, in part based on discussions with survivors and others interested in these matters who seek the truth to be exposed.
The Terms of Reference can be improved.
The Inquiry Panel can be appointed in a way which is Section 9 compliant.
With principles of “total transparency” and a “Public Panel” to keep the Inquiry Panel honest, the concerns of survivors regarding trust can be,  at least substantially, allayed.
As a further measure to establish survivor trust, I propose the appontment as Chair of a young judge who would expect to sit on the bench for a number of years after the Inquiry completes.
This would provide reassurance of good faith. A future judicial career could only proceed after the Child Abuse Inquiry if the judge appointed to Chair the Child Abuse Inquiry acted, and was seen to act, with total integrity.
Survivors cannot lawfully be a member of an Inquiry Panel appointed under the Inquiries Act 2005. Survivors can, and should, be represented on an “Advisory Panel” and/or the “Public Panel”.
Confirmation hearings – Conflicts of interest, Keith Vaz MP
In the last few days agreement has been reached between Mrs. May and Mr. Vaz to the effect that the Home Affairs Select Committee will hold one or more confirmation hearings with respect to identification of a suitable replacement for Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss and Mrs. Fiona Woolf.
Rather than solve a problem it seems to me that confirmation hearings chaired by Mr. Vaz pose a serious new problem.
Specifically, Mr. Vaz has three potential conflicts of interest, as I understand the facts:
  1. In the early 1980s Mr. Vaz was employed as a solicitor by Richmond Council. One or more Richmond Council children’s homes are alleged to have supplied boys to the notorious Elm Guest House.
  2. In the mid 1980s Mr. Vaz was employed as a senior solicitor by Islington Council. There are allegations of systematic child abuse in children’s homes run by Islington Council.
  3. In 1991 Mr. Vaz sought to change the Law to suppress public awareness of allegations of child abuse made in open court
It seems to me that Mr. Vaz has visible, substantive potential conflicts of interest.
I first asked Mr. Vaz about these seeming conflicts of interest in July 2014 on social media. He has, to the best of my knowledge, maintained total silence on the matter for four months.
If Mr. Vaz has nothing to hide, why should he not openly make a statement on the matter?
In light of my concerns on this matter I have made a formal complaint re Mr. Vaz to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards (Reference PCS 277).
Further, I have recently written to the members of the Home Affairs Select Committee asking them to consider the wisdom of having Mr. Vaz chair the Home Affairs Select Committee for any confirmation hearings.
A copy of my letter to the members of the Home Affairs Select Committee is online here:
I can see no credible way forward for confirmation hearings chaired by Mr. Vaz.
I ask you to give serious consideration as to how the credibility of the proposed confirmation hearings can be improved.
This letter is a public document.
A copy of it will be placed on my UK Child Abuse Inquiry blog:
Yours sincerely

(Dr) Andrew Watt

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