Justice Lowell Goddard has resigned as chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has advised the Inquiry will continue without delay in the absence of a new chairperson. It is understood steps are being taken to appoint a new chairperson as soon as possible.
Goddard, a New Zealand High Court judge, was appointed as chair in February 2015 to examine claims of child sexual abuse made against public and private institutions. The long awaited Inquiry previously commenced on 9 July 2014 and is expected to hear evidence from an estimated 30,000 victims. The first phase of investigations, involving 13 separate and parallel investigations, was announced in November 2015 and is ongoing. Preliminary hearings in relation to seven investigations were held between 26 and 29 July.
These separate investigations will look at a number of local authorities such as Nottinghamshire, Lambeth and Rochdale. In addition the Inquiry will look at claims of historic abuse, many against high-profile figures, and the allegations of widespread cover-ups by councils, courts, schools, churches, the BBC and the Army, by assessing whether these institutions failed in their duty of care to protect these vulnerable individuals. Following an announcement on 1 April 2016, the Inquiry will also include false allegations of abuse.
As part of the Inquiry, an "Accountability and reparations" investigation will consider the extent to which current legal frameworks and remedies open to claimants of abuse effectively provides reparation for the harm suffered. This area is considered unique within the first steps of the investigation as it is looking at the aftermath of abuse rather than prevention. This strand of the Inquiry is in response to a multitude of reports by victims/survivors of inadequate support, obstructive insurance companies and a civil justice system that fails to deliver adequate reparation. This may well be of most interest and consideration to insures in respect of what role they wish to play; be that as a core participant, witness or observer.
The Inquiry is expected to last at least 5 years and its scale is said to be “unprecedented”. Goddard had previously described the inquiry as "the opportunity to get to the heart of one of the biggest challenges for our generation". This idea has now been thrown into doubt following the resignation of the third chairperson. Indeed the 5 year timescale is likely to be extended.
Following a brief resignation letter to Rudd, Goddard released a full statement explaining her reasons for the resignation and stating the inquiry has not been an easy task due to its "legacy of failure" which has been hard to forget.
The first chair of the Inquiry, Lady Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, resigned in July 2014 following criticism that her appointment resulted in a family conflict of interest because her brother, Michael Havers, served as the attorney general in the 1980s. Her successor, Dame Fiona Woolf, resigned in October 2014 over concerns of her links to the Westminster political establishment, specifically her friend and the former Home Secretary, Leon Brittan. Theresa May, serving as Home Secretary at the time, decided an international presence in the inquiry would solve these issues, and consequently appointed Goddard.
The search for the new chair is likely to be a tough one but is a matter of urgency if the credibility of the Inquiry is not to be undermined.