Fiona Woolf resigns – what next for the national inquiry into the abuse of children?

Posted by Malcolm Johnson on

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News broke this weekend of the resignation of Fiona Woolf, Lord Mayor of London from the national inquiry into child abuse.

There are in fact two inquiries established by the Home Office.

The first is the general inquiry into historic child abuse in institutions, This inquiry had a government brief to “consider matters from 1970 to the present, and will include government departments, Parliament, the police, local authorities, churches and the Armed Forces.” This Independent Inquiry Panel will consider whether, and to what extent, institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children.

The panel has at least 8 members, a QC to advise them, and an expert adviser. Consequently it might be said that it is not defined by its chairman.

However this is the inquiry from which, Baroness Butler-Sloss and now Fiona Woolf has resigned, because of their alleged links to persons who might be implicated in the inquiry itself. Moreover the Times reported on Saturday that one of the members of the panel has faced calls to resign, because of criticisms of her role in a child protection case.

The second inquiry is an investigation by the head of the NSPCC into allegations that there was a “cover up” of allegations made in the 1980’s and provided by the then MP, Geoffrey Dickens. That inquiry is still continuing.

The search is now on for someone to head the first inquiry. The problem for the government is that all senior lawyers are linked in some way to the “establishment.” Moreover any person with social work experience is bound to have been involved in any number of child protection cases, where there were criticisms of their or their staff’s role. An inquiry with this wide ranging a brief is bound to throw up conflicts, particularly when it is estimated to last three years.

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Malcolm is an Senior Associate in our London office, with nearly twenty years' experience.

Malcolm Johnson
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