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.