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