Much is being made this week of a Restriction Order put in place by the nation’s Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse, which effectively bans participants of the Inquiry’s Truth Project from speaking about the sessions. Some are calling it a gagging order of sorts and others a muddled policy which didn’t seem to include Victim and Survivor Panel Member participation, but are we right to view the Order in this light, and what does the Order actually mean for survivors and their stories?
On first inspection, it does seem as if the Inquiry is trying to suppress survivors – this has more to do with the muddled language used in the Questions and Answers document, than within the Order itself. In one paragraph in the Q&A page we are told:
“The Restriction Order is a legal ruling that prohibits public access to the Truth Project private sessions and prevents anyone from making public…
the details of the experiences shared with the Inquiry.”
That gives the distinct expression that survivors will not be able to talk about their own cases to others. And yet, further down the Q&A page, we have this paragraph:
“The Restriction Order does not prevent you from:
talking about your experience of sexual abuse with anyone else;
telling others that you wrote to the Inquiry or attended a Truth Project private session; discussing how you felt about sharing your experience with the Inquiry.”
“There is an exception in the Restriction Order that allows you to discuss all the details of what happened as part of the Truth Project with a therapist, counsellor or doctor.”
It’s easy to see how survivors, or anyone for that matter, might get confused about what can, and can’t be said. Jump over to the actual Order itself, and things become clearer. The Order states:
“Disclosure or publication of the identity, or any details tending to indicate the identity, of any person who has provided or intends to provide an account within the scope of the Truth Project, is prohibited, except in the following circumstances:
i. where the person making the disclosure or publication is the same person as the person who is providing or has provided the account of child sexual abuse to the Inquiry.”
Clearly then, the Order is designed to protect other survivors from having their stories discussed in the media and elsewhere without their consent.
The Order goes further – it says disclosure is also allowed where that victim or survivor consents to the Inquiry publishing an anonymous summary of what they reported to the Inquiry. The Order also says that a survivor can disclose what they said during the session to a third party, as long as they don’t also mention that they made, or did not make, the same disclosure during the Truth Project session.
And whilst this is understandable, and an attempt at allowing survivors the freedom to express themselves as far as possible without compromising other survivors, it does pose one problem in relation to the transparency of the meeting itself.
What if survivors end up discussing a visible flaw within the Inquiry? Or they challenge the Inquiry on a point of operation that could be of public interest? Or worse still, an Inquiry member says or does something wrong?
Under the Inquiries Act 2005, which is where the current Inquiry gets its power to create a Restriction Order, the legislation makes it clear that any restriction on reporting must not “inhibit the allaying of public concern.”
And yet, public concern must exist in this context, without any reassurance from the Inquiry at this time that confidentiality is to be balanced properly with an appropriate level of transparency.
Nevertheless, the Inquiry could create that balance by ensuring that all meetings are recorded formally, and sign off from every participant in each meeting given once they have read the Minutes of those meetings. It is also crucial that the Inquiry details clearly what can be reported in such meetings, for example comments relating to Inquiry process or matters likely to be of public interest beyond survivor testimony.
We have tried to ask the Inquiry whether they will be doing this, via their Twitter account, however they don’t seem to have a clear understanding of how social media works, and their engagement level with the public on this platform is non existent, so we are unlikely to get a response. If any team member from the Inquiry is reading this, please do at least consider writing an update on the IICSA website, giving us an indication of how the Inquiry will be recording the sessions and what kind of involvement Victim and Survivor Panel Members have had in this process.