Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Soper trial postponed

At a plea & case management hearing last month, Laurence Soper's trial was postponed to 2nd October.

(Note: I will not publish any comments speculating as to the reason for the delay or speculating about any other aspect of the case.)

Sunday, 1 January 2017

The IICSA Review

There's been a fair bit of comment about Professor Jay's long-awaited review. Some wildly varying conclusions have been reached about it, from the Times & Guardian concluding that the inquiry is to be severely pruned to others saying that nothing much has changed.

It seems to me that lots of people are reading into the review what they want to see, and are able to do so because the review doesn't actually say very much.

The review is 37 heavily padded pages. Nine pages are taken up with the front and back covers, table of contents and the divider pages starting each chapter. There is a two-page forward from the chair which contains no actual information about the review. There is a page of background which re-iterates the inquiry's terms of reference (which the chair has no power to amend), So the review only has 25 pages with any content that might be new.

Annex A is titled "Investigation Update". This is not a review, it's a progress report on the various investigations, and runs to eight pages. This is what ought to have been in the progress report published on 31 October, where the descriptions of progress amounted to a page and a half.

So we are down to 17 pages of potential review content out of 37 pages of the document purporting to be a review.

We have two pages of a schedule chart. This really is progress report material again, not review material. We're down to 15 pages of review.

Then there is three pages describing the research programme for the next two years. The review contains nothing describing why these specific topics have been chosen, which one might reasonably expect from a review document. So let's count this as progress report material as well. We're down to 12 pages.

Next we have six pages describing the inquiry's seminar programme for the next year or two. It contains nothing again about why a statutory inquiry holding institutions to account for failing to protect children needs such an extensive seminar programme. Also the seminar programme contains nothing describing why these specific seminars were chosen and in what way it is hoped that this will help inform the inquiry's conclusions about how to prevent institutions from failing children in future.

So of the 37 pages of the document we are down to six pages actually describing the review. Did Professor Jay really expect that nobody would notice the incredible amount of padding? The typeface of the text is fairly large, so the six pages only contain just over 2000 words. Professor Jay took over as chair on 11 August and announced on 6 September that she had already started a wide-ranging internal review. So depending on when the review actually started, the review has taken 2-3 months, and the wordcount of the outcome is about that of a student's A-level English essay. This doesn't bode well for the future productivity of the inquiry.

So let's look at the review chapter paragraph by paragraph. It starts with its conclusions. (I would have thought it would have ended with its conclusions, but there you go.)
  1. That the strategic approach of the Inquiry, delivering through three major strands of work - public hearings, research and analysis, and the Truth Project - is right but that  their implementation of this approach has been too slow.
  2. That the Inquiry has done valuable work to date in a number of areas but must demonstrate this more clearly.
  3. That the Inquiry needs rebalancing to ensure sufficient attention is paid to making recommendations for the future.
  4. That the Inquiry’s commitment to exposing past failures of institutions to protect  children from sexual abuse should remain unchanged.
  5. That the Inquiry needs to publish a regular timetable of its activity starting with 2017/18.
  6. That the governance of the Inquiry needs revising to provide stronger accountability and oversight of the programme of work.
  7. That those with an interest in the Inquiry’s work should have more opportunity to  engage with it.
  8. That the Inquiry’s relationship with victims, survivors and others should be kept under constant review.
Conclusion 1 suggests measures should be taken to speed things up in future. One would hope that specific measures will be named that are designed to achieve this. We'll see.

Conclusion 2 suggests measures should be taken to improve communication in future. Conclusion 5 is one measure being proposed to implement Conclusion 2.

Conclusions 3 and 4 basically contradict each other. Conclusion 3 suggests that too little attention has been given to making future recommendations, and by implication suggests that too much attention has been given to exposing past failures of institution. But Conclusion 4 states that the "commitment to exposing past failures of institution" should remain unchanged. No wonder different people are reading whatever they want into the report.

Conclsion 6 is to do with Governance. In other words, Jay is doing what a senior manager almost always does on taking up a new post - she is doing a reorganisation. I've participated in enough reorganisations to know that they rarely achieve much.

Conclusions 7 is perfectly fine, but largely irrelevant. If the inquiry fails to deliver a coherent report, they are hardly going to be able to say "but our engagement was excellent", and if they try, then the response will be "that wasn't your job".

Conclusion 8 should be so obvious it shouldn't have needed to be said. It's only had to be said because the inquiry's relationship with survivors has become so rocky that some groups are withdrawing from participation.

The review then goes on to describe its detailed findings with regard to public hearings. It states:

The review has considered in detail each of the Inquiry’s existing investigations, to make sure that they remain fit for purpose and can be delivered in an appropriate timeframe. The Inquiry remains committed to pursuing each of these, as they play an important part in its task of examining institutional failure. We are refining the methodology for each investigation and will use a range of techniques to ensure they remain focused and deliverable. These include the use of statutory powers to obtain relevant evidence, reviews of official records, case studies, public hearings, primary research, issues papers and seminars, as appropriate.
This is the paragraph which I suspect many are interpreting as a watering-down of the public hearings aspect of the inquiry. The description of the Public Hearings Project on the IICSA website is as follows.
The Public Hearings Project resembles a conventional public inquiry, where witnesses give evidence on oath and are subject to cross examination. The Inquiry is selecting case studies from a range of institutions that appear to illustrate a pattern of institutional failings. Each hearing will last for around six weeks. A hearing may relate to a particular individual who appears to have been enabled to sexually abuse children in institutional settings. Or it may relate to an institution that appears to have demonstrated repeated failings over a number of years. Evidence is likely to be taken from both representatives of the institutions under investigation, and from victims and survivors of sexual abuse. The Inquiry does not have the power to convict abusers of criminal offences or to award compensation to victims and survivors. However, it will use its fact-finding powers fully to make findings against named individuals or institutions where the evidence justifies it.
It is clear from this description that the primary purpose of the Public Hearings Project is actually to hold public hearings in order to extract evidence under oath from sometimes unwilling individuals and institutions. On the other hand the Research Project is described as follows.
The Research and Analysis Project is one of the three core parts of the Inquiry, working alongside the Truth Project and the Public Hearings Project. The Research and Analysis Project works across all the Inquiry’s 13 investigations.

The Research and Analysis Project brings together in one place what is already known about child sexual abuse and finds out the gaps in our knowledge. It carries out new research. Including analysing  the information that the Inquiry receives through the Truth Project. The Research and Analysis Project also quality assures internal Inquiry data so that its use can be defended.
But it now seems that there is little distinction to be made between the Public Hearings project and the Research project, since the former will now include "reviews of official records, case studies, public hearings, primary research, issues papers and seminars". All but the actual public hearings themselves fall squarely within the description of the Research project.

Now it isn't necessarily a bad thing that the inquiry wants to make as much use as possible of existing written records and research. I would class it as a thoroughly good thing if it helps to enable the inquiry to ask the right questions of the right people during the public hearings. What worries me from these descriptions is that it is really quite unclear what they are trying to achieve here. It obviously isn't clear, otherwise others would have come to a common understanding of the meaning, and they haven't.

Therefore either it's not clear either because the panel themselves aren't clear about what they are trying to achieve, or they aren't communicating it effectively. The second would mean they are making a very bad start to actions concerning Conclusion 2. The first is even more worrying, in that it suggests they aren't sure what they are trying to achieve or how to achieve it.

The review then goes on to describe how it "will accelerate the progress of public hearings" and will "hold four public hearings during 2017". The schedule suggested is as follows
  • In February, the first part of the child migration programmes case study in the Children Outside the UK investigation will be held. This will hear evidence from experts and  others to provide an overview of the child migration programmes;
  • In July, the second part of the child migration programmes case study will be heard.  This hearing will cover evidence on behalf of key institutions based in England and  Wales which were responsible for sending children overseas as part of the migration  programmes;
  • In October, a hearing in relation to the Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale  investigation; and
  • In December, a hearing in relation to the English Benedictine Congregation case study in the child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church investigation.
There's just one problem with this. It isn't an acceleration.

The preliminary hearing for the Children Outside the UK investigation held on 28 July last year gave precisely this schedule: an initial hearing in February and further hearing at an unspecified date, both hearings to run for approximately two weeks. The duration of the hearings is not stated in the review.

The Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale investigation held a preliminary hearing on 27 July, at which it was stated that it was anticipated that the hearings for this investigation would follow on as soon as possible after the hearings for the Janner investigation, and that there would be a further hearing towards the end of 2016 in order to fix those dates more firmly. (That hearing never happened.) In addition the it was stated that the "best estimate at present is that it ought to be possible to inform core participants of a realistic estimated start date by the end of October of this year". That date appears to have been missed, the schedule being published as part of the review in December. In any case, there is no evidence of an acceleration of the schedule.

The Roman Catholic Church investigation held a preliminary hearing on 28 July. Scheduling was discussed there also. Tt was indicated "that there will be a further preliminary hearing in this investigation in the later part of the year". That hearing never happened. The following information was given out by Mr Emmerson as to when main hearings would occur.
"Madam, as I indicated during the course of submissions, it is unfortunately far too early at this stage in this investigation for us to be in a position to indicate what the date is likely to be. What I can indicate is that it will not be this year [2016] and that the Inquiry's diary for hearings is now full for the first half of next year, and possibly into the beginning of the second half of next year, with other hearings.  So if that provides some assistance, it won't be before the second half of next year."
The hearings are schedules for December 2017, so only just within the second half of 2017. This is also not an acceleration as compared to information previously available.

So, 2017 has a sum total of about eight weeks of scheduled public hearings, assuming each of the four hearings is about two weeks. (The two child migration programme hearings have already been indicated to be two weeks each, and the Roman Catholic Church hearing can't possibly be much longer if it is going to fit into December before Christmas.)

But this is not the full story. On 26 July there was a preliminary hearing on the Lord Janner investigation, at which it was stated this it was "the Inquiry's intention to start hearings in September of this year and to conclude within six months of commencement". The hearings didn't start in September, and on 16 November IICSA announced:
The Chair, Professor Alexis Jay, has decided to postpone the start date of 7 March 2017 for the oral hearing for the investigation concerning institutional responses to allegations of child sexual abuse involving the late Lord Janner of Braunstone QC.  The preliminary hearing due to take place before 31 January will also be postponed.
The reason given was the possible overlap between the inquiry hearings and ongoing criminal an disciplinary hearings. No new starting date has been given. This should have opened up a significant gap in the diary into which other hearings could have been placed if an accelerated schedule was being pursued. But nothing has been moved forward.

The Anglican Church investigation has had two preliminary hearings, at neither of which has any timetable been given for the scheduling of the substantive hearings. The review has mad no change here, except in as far as we know that nothing is scheduled for any time in 2017.

Precisely the same applies to the Lambeth Council investigation. Two preliminary hearings have been held, no scheduling information regarding substantive hearings has been given.

The Accountability and Reparations investigation held a preliminary hearing on 29 July at which it was stated that it is "far too early to be contemplating hearing dates at this stage". As for the seminars it was stated "We hope to be in a position to hold the first of these expert seminars in or around late November, with others following in the early part of 2017." The first was held in late November, and a further preliminary hearing will be held in March 2017 with a view to public hearings on five case studies sometime in 2018. A further seminar on the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority will be held in February 2017. So the best we can say here that the existing schedule is being maintained.

A number of investigations have as yet had no public hearings, even preliminary ones. These are:
  • Child sexual exploitation by organised networks (no hearings currently scheduled)
  • Children in custodial institutions (no hearings currently scheduled)
  • The Internet (core participant applications to open in mid 2017 and first "introductory" hearings in early 2018)
  • Children in the care of Nottinghamshire Councils (core participant applications to open in March 2017 and first preliminary hearing at an unspecified date thereafter)
  • Child sexual abuse in residential schools (no hearings currently scheduled)
  • Allegations of child sexual abuse linked to Westminster (core participant applications to open in 3rd quarter of 2017 and first preliminary hearing at an unspecified date thereafter)
This cannot by any reasonable criteria be described as an accelerated schedule of public hearings.

Let's compare this with the Australian Child Abuse Royal Commission. This was called into being on 11th January 2013. It held its first public hearing on its first case study on 16-19 September 2013 and the report of its findings was issued in March 2014. In total there have so far been 240 days of hearings on 49 case studies, and a further 7 case studies will start hearings between January and March 2017. Had the IICSA progressed at the same rate since its formation on 12 March 2015 as a statutory inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005, we would have had 102 days of public hearings on 19 case studies by now. Instead, we have had no public hearings at all so far and by the end of next year we expect to have had approximately 40 days of public hearings.

So the inquiry is promising but not delivering an accelerated programme of hearings, and it seems to be getting seriously mixed up between what is the research project and the public hearings project.

Yes, the inquiry is complex. Yes I'm sure a lot of documents need to be gone through. Yes, Britain has more people than Australia and so there are potentially more institutions and abuse victims to look at. But these don't alone justify such a stark difference in productivity.

I wish I could see some prospect of an improvement, but I don't. On present showing, this inquiry is going to take forever.