Child Abuse Inquiry Chair Nomination: The Count Down Begins

Though some sources are reporting that Home Secretary Theresa May may not in fact announce the new Chair for the Child Abuse Inquiry tomorrow (with next week looking like a more viable option) three front-runners have emerged from the list of over 150 candidates.

Current legal counsel to the Inquiry, Ben Emmerson QC has been touted as a possible replacement – his knowledge in the field of human rights and his engagement with the Inquiry, making him familiar with survivors and other key players, make him a practical choice.

Another serious contender is Michael Mansfield QC – the darling of survivors and their first choice for Chair, Mansfield is perceived as a radical, unafraid to challenge the establishment and make some noise when the situation demands it.

A wild card comes in the form of a foreign judge, possibly from The US, Canada, Australia or New Zealand. We have heard May talk about appointing a judge from these shores in the past, but it’s risky – survivors may not take kindly to an outsider they’re not familiar with leading their cause.

And finally, the controversial choice, Sue Berelowitz, Deputy Children’s Commissioner for England. Not shy to make her views known, which are sometimes considered left field (like her stark warning about transparency in the family courts and child suicides which may stem from media reporting of such cases), Sue has a great deal of experience working with issues relating to child sexual abuse having worked on inquiries of this nature before, and brings a child-focused approach to the table. But will her views on transparency help or hinder her work should she be appointed as Chair?

We happen to think Emmerson is likely to win out on this one. Despite his awkward show down with Keith Vaz and his miscalculations surrounding Survivors and their culture, he is familiar with the process, has started to engage with key individuals on the Inquiry and, we are sure, begun to understand the delicate nature of the process. His appointment would save considerable time, but perhaps time is not everything.

Whoever May appoints as Chair will have to gain the trust of survivors, show an acute understanding of the issues involved and be able to give the establishment the finger if they have to. Let’s see who gets the spot.

Rape: New Guidelines To Protect Women Further – But What About Men?

Today’s big headline tells us that Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, is set to release progressive guidelines to all police forces and prosecutors on how to deal better with rape allegations. The guidance attempts to remove grey areas surrounding sexual consent and clarifies the situations in which a person is unable or unlikely to be able to give consent. These include being under the influence of alcohol, or drugs, existing mental health problems, learning difficulties, being asleep and being unconscious.

Suspects in positions of power, and domestic violence scenarios are also referred to in the ‘tool kit’, as potential red flags in addressing consent.

Controversially, the guidelines do not seem to touch upon male-on-male rape, or female-on-male rape, still perceived as taboos and forms of rape which have yet to be treated, at least from a cultural perspective, as on a par with male-on-female rape. Consequently, the current guidance seems only to require men to prove that a woman said ‘yes’ in rape cases, despite the Sexual Offences Act 2003 clearly encompassing, albeit implicitly, other forms of rape.

The debate surrounding female-on-male rape is still the least highlighted, with many, including ourselves, unsure about the issues and contexts involved. But it is a debate we should be having. In what circumstances can a woman rape a man? Should we define those circumstances and place them on a par with other forms of rape? And finally, what are the psychological effects of this kind of rape? These are all issues that have yet to be discussed openly, and with government input. America has already started to look at female-on-male rape. There, these instances are called “made to penetrate” cases. Not surprisingly, many of these “made to penetrate” cases involve adult teachers engaging in sexual activity with underage students.

Without seeing the guidelines that made the headlines today, we don’t feel able to comment more on their potential impact, but people are already concerned about the impact the guidelines will have on men if they are not able to provide evidence of consent.

This is not a new concern though, as the current law already imposes a duty on the defendant in this context to bring sufficient evidence to show that the complainant consented. The guidelines then, are in some part simply emphasising current legislation on the issue, but they are also extending police and prosecutors’ understanding of how consent may be impeded or obstructed.

The double standard though is there for all to see. An whilst we don’t like to make a fuss about gender equality for the sake of it, we do think that if Alison Saunders wishes to bring rape investigations into the 21st century, she should do that, for everyone.

Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions

Child Abuse Inquiry: Sharon Evans’ Emails and Other Materials

In an unusual step, the Home Affairs Committee has decided to upload several emails, letters and other materials relating to the Independent Panel Inquiry on Child Abuse, onto their site.

In a tense meeting in the House of Commons this week (which you can view here), Keith Vaz MP tries to get to the bottom of the Panel’s internal conflicts in a session with Inquiry Counsel, Ben Emmerson QC.

Emmerson was responding to allegations that he had bullied and intimidated a panel member, Sharon Evans. Emmerson was also addressing issues surrounding the drafting of panel members’ impartiality letters, with a focus on Fiona Woolf’s own letter, prior to her standing down as Chair for the Inquiry.

The meeting is a long one, running to just under an hour and a half. During that time, Emmerson tells the Committee that Evans’ complaint had been investigated and found not to be upheld. He also asserted, on the question of his involvement with drafting letters, that he only advised on two occasions.

It’s an awkward session. Both Vaz and Emmerson fluctuate from passive aggression to polite and facilitating discussion, and it’s clearly an uncomfortable experience for Emmerson, but it’s worth watching just to get a sense of the sheer mess the Inquiry has become. At one point Vaz makes the observation that the public perception of the Inquiry is that too much is being kept confidential. Emmerson disagrees and states that, on the contrary, he felt the public would consider that too much information was being put out into the public domain. A concerning observation by legal counsel, highlighting a lack of understanding on his part, and we agree with Vaz on that issue.

Bogged down by internal gripes, missing Chairs, team members having to extend their remits to enable the Inquiry and confidentiality clauses that cross over and cut through the debate, you’re left with the sensation that not much, in reality, has been said in this session.

You can catch the newly published materials here. They include:

1. Letter from Home Secretary to Chair, 23 January
2. Letter from Ben Emmerson QC to Chair, 23 January
3. Letter from Panel Secretariat to Chair, 23 January
4. Consolidated emails from Sharon Evans, January
5. Briefing note and background papers from Panel Secretariat, 19 January
6. Letter from Vince Cable MP to Home Secretary, 9 January
7. Transcript of oral evidence, 20 January

Maypole Women: Barriers To Sharing Care

This item popped into our inbox this morning from women’s charity Maypole, and we found it thought-provoking and insightful, so we are adding it below:

Mothers face many barriers to sharing care. Are the difficulties you have faced listed here?

The majority of mothers want their child to have a relationship with the father, and actively promote contact. But there are many barriers to sharing care after divorce or family break up.

When contact does not work, mothers’ stories are rarely heard. Instead, mothers are accused of being selfish, abusive, and even of having a personality disorder. Here we list some of the reasons why supporting contact can be difficult, and how fathers, society and the law all contribute to these barriers.

Shared care interrupts primary care
In two parent families, or families where one parent is absent, every child has their needs met through a system of primary care. One parent has overall responsibility for, and knowledge of, the child’s needs and activities, ensuring nothing is missed out.

At family break up, children still need someone to oversee their activities and needs. But shared care does not replicate how the child’s needs were met beforehand. By dividing care according to parental time, rather than parental roles, gaps are created in the primary carer’s knowledge and ability to exercise their overseeing care giving responsibility.

The disruption of the primary care function is a fundamental risk inherent in shared parenting. Children’s primary care needs must be met for children to benefit fully from relationships.

If parents communicate well the gap in the overseeing function can be repaired, but when communication between parents is poor the primary carer is prevented from fulfilling their parental responsibilities.

Protecting children’s need for the primary care demonstrates an understanding of children’s full range of needs, and can and does occur without motivation to obstruct the father child relationship.

Mismatch between the ideology and reality of parenting roles
Shared care is often seen as gender equality, recognising parents have equal rights and responsibilities for their children.

Yet the social reality of parenting shows that all two parent families choose diversity to best meet their child’s needs, with one parent acting as the primary carer with overall responsibility for child care. Changes in fathers’ involvement in child care in recent years has not changed the primary care function.

In most families it is the mother who is the primary carer, even when she works full time, and even when shared care is ordered by the family courts. The division of time after parents divorce or separate does not lead to an equitable division of care.

Fathers are more likely to be involved after divorce if they were very involved in their children’s lives before the split. However equitable the sharing of time, mothers usually continue to assume greater responsibility for co-ordinating children’s routines and care, even when the children are with the father.

Being ‘equally’ important does not mean roles are the ‘same’. Family law emphasises equal parental responsibility, where each parent has equal rights in decision making. In reality, the right to be involved in making decisions can be exercised without spending time with, or caring directly for, a child.

When the father is controlling, mothers can be prevented from making basic decisions for themselves and their children, undermining their ability to meet their child’s needs effectively. The stress for mothers, and children, can be very high, yet often coercive behaviour is not seen as a bar to contact in the family courts.

Conflict could be reduced if family law was sensitive to the social realities of family lives, and replicates the roles parents have already chosen as best for their child, giving children stability and continuity of care. Whilst it is important for fathers to be more involved in their child’s care, family law is not a suitable mechanism for social change.

Lack of paternal experience
At separation and divorce, many fathers don’t have experience of all care giving tasks, and may not even realise there needs to be an overall view of child care responsibilities (primary care), or appreciate its importance. The non-primary carer is expected to take on more child care responsibility just as he loses his daily, ‘in-house’ primary care support.

Fathers’ lack of parental experience can make it difficult for mothers to trust their parenting capabilities. If the father has limited experience, it is natural the mother might lack confidence that he can fully meet their child’s needs. The more a father has shared child care responsibilities before divorce, the more shared care is likely to work afterwards.

Lack of paternal responsibility
Mothers’ biggest complaint after separation is fathers’ lack of involvement. Supporting a child’s relationship with their father is not easy if the father is uninvolved, unpredictable or absent. It is the mother who has to deal with the consequences, when their child is feeling disappointed, rejected, angry or confused.

Many researchers believe that children’s well being is best served with consistent care by the parent who is their primary care giver. Therefore a mother can provide a continuous presence in a child’s life to counter balance the negative effects of a father who comes and goes.

Fathers who want more equal time at separation and divorce don’t always contribute more equally to child care responsibilities:

‘Fathers refused to take on more responsibility after divorce, while still insisting on maintaining contact with their children, it led to real strains in the parental relationship (with mothers) … become increasingly resentful‘ (Silva and C Smart, 1999).

Abdication of parental care
Some fathers, when their children are in their care, hand over their caring responsibilities to a female relative or new partner. Care by another female when the mother (and usually primary carer) is available and willing to care for the child(ren) ignores both a child’s need for continuity and a mother’s deep sense of connection to her child.

Mothers’ concerns ignored
Family courts often minimise or disregard mothers’ genuine concerns, yet there is a proven link between mothers’ (but not fathers’) concerns and children’s well being.

Contact decisions are much more likely to be supported by mothers if their concerns are listened to, respected, and incorporated into a contact plan which manages, rather than ignores, their perspective.

The limitations of coerced agreements
Whilst the law can order contact, or mediation encourage settlement, they cannot nurture trust, respect, good communication, or adequate parenting skills – the necessary requirements to make shared care work. When conflict is caused by domestic abuse, both parents are not equally empowered to end the conflict.

Living in two houses
Substantial shared care requires children to move from house to house. It is not possible to have two of everything, some things can’t easily be transferred, and some things ‘walk’. Constantly moving is time consuming and disruptive, and can be very stressful and disorientating for children, no matter how much they want to see both parents.

It is the child who does most of the physical and emotional work, not the adults. Living in two houses is frequently cited as being best for children by adults who have never actually tried it for themselves. In many cases children are divided equally or near equally even though the child did not see both parents equally before divorce.

Recognising the challenges of living in two houses for children is child-centred; refusal or resistance to acknowledge these challenges puts relationships with parents at the centre of the child’s life, rather than recognising children’s full range of needs, and how they are met.

Resistance to the misuse of power and control
Abusive fathers can use child contact to continue to control and coerce their ex partner, and child(ren) after separation. Despite this, children can still be bonded to an abusive parent, and may still want to have a relationship with him.

Finding a balance between promoting the father/ child relationship, and protecting the mother and child from further abuse can be challenging. Although the benefits of contact might conflict with a child’s need for protection, the family courts rarely order no contact. As result, women are frequently expected to hand over their children in situations where they have genuine fears for the child’s wellbeing.

In all other aspects of society knowingly putting a child at risk would be considered negligent. When women do not support contact in these circumstances, it is not the presence of the father they reject, but his attempts to deprive others of their autonomy and safety.

Children deserve the same level of protection from coercion and abuse in family law as they do in all other aspects of society.

Rejection, abandonment and loss
Anger is a natural reaction to the losses that the end of a relationship brings, and can be particularly acute for a parent who is on the receiving end of abuse or rejection. Preventing child contact as an expression of anger is to put the parent’s needs before the child’s, but so too is domestic violence and, arguably, the pursuit of personal relationships outside the family.

Therefore judging one parent’s behaviour in isolation, rather than in context of family dynamics, is to relieve the other parent of their share of responsibility.

Financial inequality
Mothers are much more likely to compromise their career to provide child care, which has a detrimental effect on their employment skills and earning potential. If the parents separate, financial settlements rarely cover the true value of lost income and pension.

If a mother loses her role as main carer at family break up, she will continue to have substantial financial commitments, in maintaining her home and continuing to provide for her child, yet maintenance payments will be reduced, and she will not qualify for child related benefits.

Unless substantial support is made available to women who have been financial disadvantaged as primary care giver, economic devastation will remain a pervading fear for many women. The concept of parental equality in family law practice can exacerbate inequality in living standards after separation.

Sharing care therefore represents a financial risk that some mothers simply cannot afford to take.

Institutionalised insensitivity to the maternal role
Mothers, as primary carers, have a biological, emotional and cognitive connection to their child’s needs. The identity of a primary carer is centred foremost on the child, and putting the child’s needs first. It is for this reason mothers are more likely to modify their working life to ‘juggle’ child care. Being a mother is ‘an identity and not just a job’ (Silva and Smart, 1999).

Current family law, which assumes a gender neutral approach, ignores the fact that women as primary care givers are usually the psychological parent to children. Many mothers want fathers to share child care responsibilities after separation, but sudden or enforced changes in caring patterns deprive mothers’ psychological need for a continuous connection to their child, and robs them of their identity.

The method by which all children’s needs are met in every family is invisible in family law. Through separation and divorce mothers’ psychological connection to their child is undermined and sometimes broken.

Primary care is not about not letting others care for your child, it is about letting go slowly, with trust and confidence the chid is safe. Primary care is instinctive, devised by nature as the best way to ensure all of a child’s needs are met, appropriately and consistently.

Enforced changes in residency are ‘unfair to the mother and potentially harmful to the child’ (McBean, in Boyd, 2003). Depriving mothers of their psychological connection to their child tears at mothers’ instinct and peace of mind, and has long term consequences for women, children and society generally.

A reluctance to support contact could, for many women, be a defence mechanism, in the absence of legal recognition of the importance of continuing primary psychological parenting, for mothers, and their children.

Valuing mothers
It is a credit to mothers that they make the personal sacrifices they do, to support their children to the best of their ability, in circumstances which are sometimes discriminatory and distressing.

When mothers appear to fail in supporting the father-child relationship, addressing the barriers to sharing care would be more effective in ensuring all of children’s needs are met, and their relationships are protected.
If we haven’t listed a difficulty you faced, let us know and we could add it to the list.

If you have experienced any of these issues and need support, find more information on our web site.

You can also send this list to your local MP and ask what their party intends to do to help mothers.


Ben Emmerson QC on That Letter: I’m Not Responsible for Content About Lord Brittan

As we approach the last leg of what is likely to be a suspense-filled few days in the run up to the appointment of a Chair for the national Child Abuse Inquiry, legal counsel Ben Emmerson QC has been cross-examined by MPs on his role in the Inquiry.

Giving evidence before the Commons home affairs committee yesterday, Emmerson told MPs that he did not advise deposed Inquiry Chair Fiona Woolf on contents of her letter to Theresa May which spoke directly to her conflicts of interest. Those conflicts included the now infamous declarations about her relationship with Lord and Lady Brittan, which was seen to be watered down through a series of drafts. Fiona Woolf though, begs to differ. In her letter to Keith Vaz in October of last year, she explicitly states that both Emmerson and the solicitor to the Inquiry (as well as other unnamed Home Office personnel) all produced drafts of her impartiality letter. Woolf goes to some lengths to detail the level of, not insignificant, involvement of these parties in the production of her letter to Theresa May, though she has not yet responded to Emmerson’s assertion that he was not involved in the drafting of the content which spoke to her relationship with the Brittans.

What’s left is a glaring question mark over whether counsel for the inquiry were complicit in reframing the nature of Fiona Woolf’s relationship with the Brittans and less importantly perhaps, whether Fiona Woolf herself played a conscious part in that deception. Even more puzzling though, is why Woolf chose to seek out inquiry counsel for the purpose of drafting her letter in the first place- a seemingly awkward conflict of interest itself and a concerning show of partiality by counsel. (You can read all seven drafts of Fiona’s letter here, as well as her response to Keith Vaz MP).

If though, Emmerson and others were responsible for diluting conflicts of interest in impartiality letters to the Home Secretary, this should be addressed. We have yet to see if Woolf will respond to Emmerson’s comment on the drafting process, but one thing is certain: the Inquiry panel and its counsel should not play host to yet more cover ups and internal conflicts.

Moving on, Emmerson also set out a list of traits that he felt would make for a good Chair during the session yesterday. The Guardian reports that Emmerson felt the Chair:

” ….must be someone with absolute independence from the executive, and demonstrable ability to hold the executive to account. They must have very considerable forensic skills. They must be passionate about the need to bring justice to survivors, and to scourge the establishment. They must have the imagination to see that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to address this issue. And they need real courage.”

We would add to that list, an adept ability to engage with survivors compassionately, fairly and with an open mind. We’re not sure how well the current panel are able to do this, (as surely these qualities must apply to the panel as well as Chair).

One final thought. Emmerson also shares our view that the current panel should be disbanded, but we’re rather more cynical about his agenda, given that he has a needling thorn in his side in the form of current panel member Sharon Evans.

Either way, all will be revealed this week, so stay tuned and we will keep you updated on all the latest as it happens.

Ben Emmerson QC

Question It!

Welcome to a wet but slightly warmer Monday and our question this week, which is very straight forward.

Forced adoption is the controversial name given for the arguably controversial practice of removing a child from his or her biological parents when they are deemed to be unable to care for their child themselves. What makes this practice raise eyebrows is the fact that removal is not voluntary – parents are not required to give their consent when giving up their child. Instead, the Local Authority, usually, will take a child into care without parental permission and then, may place that child for adoption. These powers are given to the Local Authority through the law.

Our question then, is this: is forced adoption a necessary measure to protect children from harm or is there a better way?


Child Abuse Inquiry – Petitions for Justice, Hackers Taking on Paedophiles and Leon Brittan Controversy

Theresa May may be trying to get the Inquiry off the ground, but the latest backlash against the delays and controversial revelations about the newly deceased Leon Brittan must feel like treading through molasses. But who’s to blame?

Fed up with having to wait for over 200 days for the Inquiry to get going, an abuse survivor has decided to start a petition online to ask May to get a move on. The survivor, known only as “Becky”, is though, a little late, as May has already promised to have the Chair for the Inquiry confirmed by the end of next week and the future of the Inquiry set by the end of the month, now five days away.

Meanwhile, radical hacking group Anonymous have decided to concentrate their efforts on exposing paedophiles world wide using the net, and have named their mission, “Operation Death Eaters” after the Harry Potter characters. This operation is likely to cause something of a stir within the establishment. The hackers want to highlight what they believe to be organised, systematic child sexual abuse across the web sanctioned at the highest levels.

And it’s only been four days since Leon Brittan passed away but allegations of sexual abuse are beginning to surface, as a victim who spoke out last year about Brittan’s involvement in a Westminster paedophile ring makes the news again this week. Nick alleges that Brittan abused him and several other boys at Westminster.

The difficulties the Child Abuse Inquiry faces today are in part due to historic responses to abuse, which included denying or ignoring allegations altogether and systematically covering up evidence linked to these claims. It’s no wonder that the Inquiry is struggling to get itself up and running, as voices that have remained silent for so long, now sense an opportunity to speak out. The clamour in the media though, should not dissuade May from getting her tush in gear – promises to get a Chair and a proper infrastructure for the Inquiry within the next five days must be kept, and full confidence in the people chosen to get involved and the process itself, is key.

It’s time to take the bull by the horns, and get a powerful panel up and running.

Child Abuse Inquiry – All The Latest

It’s been a busy 48 hours for Home Secretary Theresa May and the Child Abuse Inquiry. 

May responded to an Urgent Question asked by Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, in the House of Commons today, on the child abuse inquiry and its delay. The full transcript of the meeting in the House can be read here.

Points of note at the meeting included May promising to appoint a Chair for the Inquiry by the end of next week, the discovery of a file entitled “unnatural sexual proclivities” a redacted version of which will be made public shortly (if it is not a duplicate of a pre-existing file which May suspects it might be), the cancellation of several survivor meetings whilst the Home Secretary contemplates the fate of the Inquiry and a promise by May that she would decide once and for all, and before the end of January, what form the Inquiry should take and what to do with the current panel members.

There are 150 names on the candidates for Chair list, who have apparently all been background checked, but the final selection will be made with the approval of survivors.

May is also currently proposing three options in relation to form, for the Inquiry:  One is to set up a royal commission, another is to start again and reset it as a statutory inquiry, and another is to await the appointment of the chairman and continue on with the current panel, but with statutory inquiry powers.

Still, internal conflicts within the Inquiry continue. The latest member to be criticised for his approach towards survivors, and the Inquiry in general is legal counsel for the Group, Ben Emmerson QC. Panel member Sharon Evans has accused Emmerson of intimidation and bully tac tics as well as a need to dominate and manage the inquiry. The remaining panel members appear to be supporting Emmerson, who says Evans’ allegations are unfounded.

Meanwhile, another Downing Street file listed in the National Archives catalogue as “Security – allegations against former public [missing word] of unnatural sexual proclivities; security aspects 1980 Oct 27 – 1981 Mar 20.” has come to light. This material will be made available to the panel members in due course – whoever they may be.

It’s a sorry state of affairs. An inquiry of this kind requires dignity, discipline and diplomacy in all things. It also requires compassion, consideration and a rather large dose of team spirit. The current panel is sadly lacking.

Can You Get Legal Aid?

Although no one’s ever heard of it, and this is compounded by the fact that no one seems to be using it, the government have a web page called Civil Legal Advice, which allows you to work out whether or not you can get legal aid.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t even manage to do that – which may explain why the government is currently reviewing this service - as once you’ve filled out the mind-numbing form online (which runs to several pages), you get an irritating message at the end telling you “may” qualify for legal aid, and to input all your personal information into the last page so they, whoever they are, can call you back.

It’s a lot of hassle for very little. We know, because we gave it a go. We presented as a divorcing woman with one child under 15, no income and only jewellery to show for our worldly wealth. When the form asks you for the value of the jewellery, you have to assume they mean what you’d get for it today, which is also unhelpful as most of us haven’t a clue. If the form wants to know what you paid for the jewellery or how much someone else paid for it, this would be equally pointless – you certainly wouldn’t get that much for it today, whatever it was. So, as you can see, the online service, which is in Beta phase to be fair (although that doesn’t excuse its clumsy process) is less than helpful.

The other thing that’s not very clear is who exactly is going to call you back. Is it a volunteer at a charity? A civil servant? A telephone operator with one of those annoying handbooks filled with questions they can’t deviate from (whatever you do, don’t ask them if they’re human), or an engaged ring tone? Apparently, it’s a Civil Legal Advice operator. So, the dude with the handbook then. Goody. But not before you’ve given your full name, telephone number, address, and synopsis of what your problem is. Just in case the five pages of multiple choice you filled out didn’t quite do your dilemma justice.

If you’re not feeling suicidal at this point, you probably will once you realise the operator might end up passing you on to a  CLA specialist adviser. That’s if you qualify for legal aid.

So it’s a three-step process, where you have to repeat yourself constantly, both online and on the phone and then, if you’re lucky you might get legal support.

We’re tired just thinking about this process.

It seems ridiculous to us – why not just have a phone line, where you can talk to people quickly and efficiently and then find out if further action can be taken. The whole process as it stands relies on people filling out the form accurately, and it’s not a very good form by any means, so that by a process of elimination the phone operators don’t have to ‘waste their time’ with people who may not qualify. A system like this will inevitably result in many people who could have qualified, not being given the opportunity to do so.

And that’s what’s wrong with service in this country. Our government wants to do, and give the bare minimum.

If you’re bored and don’t mind the rigmarole, you can see if you qualify for legal aid here. If you’d rather dive into the Thames naked, we’ll be standing by the shore line with a flask of tea.

legal aid


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