Professor Alexis Jay has been appointed as the new head of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). Jay will be the fourth person to chair the panel after the resignation of Justice Goddard on 5 August 2016.
Commenting upon her appointment, Jay said "I will lead the largest public inquiry of its kind and together with my fellow panel members we will fearlessly examine institutional failures, past and present and make recommendations so that the children of England and Wales are better protected now and in the future."
The appointment of Professor Jay has divided opinion, as she will be the first chair of the Inquiry to not hold any legal or judicial qualifications. Questions have been raised as to whether this will reduce confidence in the conclusions of the Inquiry, particularly by victims.
Moreover it may be that the Inquiry, with its 13 independent strands of investigations, will simply be too big to manage effectively. This set back is likely to further delay the completion of the Inquiry, which was initially estimated to be finalised by 2020.
Whilst Professor Jay's career may not have followed in the footsteps of her predecessors, she does have 30 years' experience in child protection, working as Scotland's chief social worker adviser. She also led the successful Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham.
Matthew Scott, barrister at Pump Court Chambers, believes appointing Professor Jay was the wrong decision. He notes the Rotherham Inquiry and IICSA are being conducted in two different ways, with public examination and cross-examination of witnesses being the centre of the IICSA.
Despite Professor Jay receiving legal assistance from very experienced legal practitioners, including Ben Emmerson QC and Elizabeth Prochaska from Matrix Chambers and Drusilla Sharpling CBE from the CPS, there will be some limitations to the support they can provide. The Inquiries Act 2005 and Inquiries Rules 2006 clearly state decisions of procedure are for the chair to make alone, so it remains to be seen how this will work in practice. Similarly, this may impact on the Inquiry's ability to make recommendations on required legal changes arising out of the investigations.
Professor Jay has the support of the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, who states she is "delighted" that Professor Jay will now head the Inquiry and she has "no doubt she will run this independent inquiry with vigour, compassion and courage."
The appointment of a new chair will not be the last we hear from the inquiry. Keith Vaz, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee has demanded Justice Lowell Goddard to provide a full explanation as to why she resigned.