In a meeting this afternoon, the Home Affairs Committee questioned new Chair to the child abuse inquiry Justice Goddard, on why she chose to take the position, what she envisages for the inquiry and survivors and how she hopes to move the inquiry forward.
Justice Goddard, though visibly wary, was articulate and focused throughout despite arriving in England on Monday and no doubt being briefed and orienting herself since then.
The Home Affairs Committee asked several questions in a meeting which lasted for nearly an hour and a half. Goddard was asked why she had taken on the role of Chair and replied that she felt her career path had led her to this point. She confirmed that she would relocate to England in order to carry out her duties as Chair and that whilst her children, who are now grown up and have families of their own, would not be joining her, she would visit them during the holidays. Her husband, an established judge himself, would be coming to join her, but would need to travel to and from England in order to carry out his commitments elsewhere.
The issue of Justice Goddard’s salary has not yet been settled, nor the terms of her appointment but she promised to inform the Committee as and when those issues were resolved (they will also be made available to the public). Goddard was also asked whether she sought out the role, and explained that she did not and that she was invited to be considered for the position.
Several questions were also asked about the allegations made on a blog which accuses Justice Goddard of a cover up. Justice Goddard gave details of the incident, and explained that the blog was located in America, that the author had been jailed for contempt of court and had been declared a vexatious litigant by a court in New Zealand. Justice Goddard also explained that the matter had been fully investigated and no evidence of a cover up had been found.
Seemingly satisfied with Justice Goddard’s account, the Committee went on to ask whether she might reset the Inquiry, notwithstanding those individuals already removed from the panel. Goddard indicated that she would need to scope out the inquiry first before being able to make a decision on that score.
Justice Goddard also confirmed that she would be writing her letter of impartiality herself, without any input from advisers, and that she was able to do so because her legal background facilitated this. Goddard went on to say that she was fully independent, unafraid to discuss matters she felt needed raising with the Home Secretary, and that she felt the inquiry would need a minimum of three years to complete due to the multi faceted nature of the issues involved.
On survivors, Justice Goddard was robust. She confirmed that they would play an integral role in the inquiry, that they would be viewed as a valuable resource and that they could have their own panel, which would work alongside the inquiry panel of experts to assist and offer that panel direction. She re-iterated that she would not be influenced by government or others seeking to alter the direction of the inquiry and its remit to uncover the truth. She said she saw the inquiry as an investigation in part, into the abuses which have taken place but also a space to find out the truth.
Goddard also explained that she wanted to ensure that survivors had a safe space in which to speak out and that those survivors who did not wish to speak publicly, or give their evidence in public, would not be compelled to do so. She felt that there would be survivors who would wish to do this and other who would rather give their evidence in confidence and she would facilitate both in an appropriate manner which conformed with the inquiry’s statutory obligations. She also felt that the Inquiry’s current website needed to be regularly updated and user-friendly, to allow survivors to come forward more easily. She also confirmed that she would ensure proper provision of support for survivors during the process.
The Committee also asked Justice Goddard about the possibility of including Northern Ireland in the inquiry, to which Goddard replied that she would seek counsel Ben Emmerson’s advice on the matter and much would depend on whether there might be too much overlap with Northern Ireland’s current inquiry. Goddard confirmed that she would have no hesitation in engaging with Home Secretary Theresa May on this issue if she felt Northern Ireland needed to be included.
Whilst Justice Goddard was unsure as to whether she would be able to stay as Chair for longer than a period of four years (the time she has committed to the inquiry) should the process take longer than the envisaged three, she said that she was committed to the process.
Speaking on the selection process for panel members, Goddard felt that 8 members as per the previous panel may be too many, but that numbers were secondary to expertise and she would be looking to involve experts who were able to research and lead the investigation appropriately. She hoped that the inquiry would revisit past wrongs, clarify events, ensure redress and lead to the protection of future generations of children against child sexual abuse.
Justice Goddard also explained that differing points of view would be welcomed, not shunned and that the inquiry will not be centralised in government to ensure its independence. She felt that trust in the inquiry could only be gained through the work of the inquiry itself.
Relinquishing her role as judge in New Zealand, Justice Goddard also confirmed that she would be looking at other commitments and ensuring they did not interfere with her work for the inquiry. Although Goddard is not yet fully versed on the issues surrounding child abuse in the UK, she is hoping to get herself up to speed and is aware that the scale of the problem here, including those cases involving high-profile individuals, is nothing short of a scandal.
The Home Affairs Committee went on to confirm that they would no longer be involved in this inquiry, as once set as a Statutory Inquiry, parliament would be obliged to step back. Goddard confirmed that the Inquiry was likely to be in full swing by early April, although the search for panel members would start now. Closing the meeting, Keith Vaz thanked Justice Goddard for her time, wished her luck and noted, “the eyes of the nation will be upon you.”