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.