Friday, 9 June 2017

Fort Augustus, Truth and the IICSA

In his famous 1974 Caltech commencement address Cargo Cult Science, Nobel prizewinning physicist Richard Feynman mused on the standards of truth expected of scientists. It really is a wonderful speech and I recommend you follow the link above and read all of it. But here's the bit that is relevant to what I have to say.
It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty—a kind of leaning over backwards.  For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid—not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked—to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them.  You must do the best you can—if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong—to explain it.  If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it.  There is also a more subtle problem.  When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.

The easiest way to explain this idea is to contrast it, for example, with advertising.  Last night I heard that Wesson Oil doesn’t soak through food.  Well, that’s true.  It’s not dishonest; but the thing I’m talking about is not just a matter of not being dishonest, it’s a matter of scientific integrity, which is another level.  The fact that should be added to that advertising statement is that no oils soak through food, if operated at a certain temperature.  If operated at another temperature, they all will—including Wesson Oil.  So it’s the implication which has been conveyed, not the fact, which is true, and the difference is what we have to deal with.
The point he's making that scientists need to hold themselves to a higher standard of truth, they mustn't mislead with technically truthful statements. Advertisers do that all the time, but scientists shouldn't, they are the bearers of an important responsibility to tell the truth without misleading.

Lawyers are also supposed not to lie, they are "officers of the court" and have a duty to the court over and above their duty to their clients. But (in my layman's understanding) their duty can get a bit fuzzy round the edges when there is the opportunity to mislead with technically true statements and they have a client's interests to defend. But the lawyers acting for the IICSA in a very real way don't have a client to defend, they are servants of an inquiry supposedly dedicated to discovering the truth. There should be no need for those sorts of games, no matter how legal they are and how well they fall within the codes they adhere to. The lawyers for the inquiry should be able simply to tell the truth without shading it. We should be able to hold them to that higher standard.

So imagine my disappointment when Ms. Karmy-Jones, counsel to the inquiry for the Roman Catholic investigation, said the following in her initial remarks to the hearing on June 6th.
In relation to core participant status, it must be remembered that when individuals were granted core participant status, it was made plain in the notices of determinations that were sent out that the inquiry is obliged to take a proportionate approach to its investigation and will not be in a position to investigate fully the circumstances of each and every core participant's personal experience. It must be remembered that there is a difference between the status of a core participant and a witness. Individuals have been designated core participants because they have a significant interest in the matters under investigation within the Roman Catholic Church investigation. That allows them to take part in proceedings, to make submissions, to receive relevant disclosure and to be represented at inquiry hearings, but it does not necessarily mean that their evidence will always automatically fall to be adduced or that the inquiry will be in a position to investigate their specific experiences.
Now let me be clear, every single word of that paragraph is true. Ms. Karmy-Jones is absolutely not lying. But nonetheless, in offering true statements, she is seeking to justify a course of action (dropping Ealing and Fort Augustus from the inquiry) with a description of the situation which is incomplete and thereby inaccurate.

Let's talk first about the distinction between a witness and a core participant. Ms. Karmy-Jones is perfectly correct in her description of the difference. It is quite possible for instance that if a large number of survivors from one location all describe similar experiences in their written statements, they might not all get called to give evidence in person in public hearings. The inquiry could with perfect justification decide that a representative sample was sufficient to establish the existence of a pattern and therefore evidence of institutional failure, which after all is what it is supposed to be finding out about.

Let's look next at the "proportionate approach". Yes the statement about a proportionate approach is in every published determination on core participant status. Core participant status can only be justified for people if "they have a significant interest in the matters under investigation". But this is where Ms. Karmy-Jones' point begins to look a bit more shaky. In the context of survivors, awarding CP status can only possibly mean that the inquiry has a definite intention to investigate the institution in which the survivor was abused, or which otherwise failed to prevent the abuse. There is no earthly point in defining survivors as core participants when they are associated with an institution the inquiry has no intention to investigate. This would be disproportionate and and the legal representation for them out of the inquiry budget would be a waste of taxpayers' money.

The inquiry has made determinations awarding core participant status to survivors from both Ealing Abbey/St Benedict's School and Fort Augustus Abbey and school. Ealing is mentioned by name in the scope of the Roman Catholic investigation, while Fort Augustus is not. However, this makes no significant difference, the inquiry's clear intent to investigate both was signalled by the awarding of CP status to both groups of survivors.

Ms Karmy-Jones later said this specifically in the context of Fort Augustus.
It is important to remember two things, and I deal with this in some detail because of the news reports. Firstly, the inquiry's jurisdiction is restricted to England and Wales. And secondly, rather than the specific allegations of abuse, the inquiry's remit is to investigate possible or alleged institutional failings in safeguarding.
The matter that seems to have given rise to concern is an interpretation of a passage from Mr Emmerson's opening at the preliminary hearing in July 2016, set out in Mr Khan's document. But just to remind the parties of what he said, he said:
"The inquiry's scope is limited to England and Wales, but because clergy involved in the Benedictine schools have been moved between Scotland, England and Wales, and because, despite being in Scotland, Fort Augustus Abbey and its schools were affiliated with the English Benedictine Congregation, we will investigate failures in relation to that school as well."
It appears that the last sentence of that passage has been interpreted as meaning that this inquiry will investigate Fort Augustus as a whole, including the nature and extent of allegations of abuse there, and Fort Augustus as an institution's response to it. But we suggest that is incorrect. Mr Emmerson was plainly speaking with the caveat that the scope of the inquiry was limited to England and Wales, and specifically references the issue being the movement of individuals.
If that were so, and if the chair had interpreted the scope of the inquiry in this way, and if as a result there was never any intention to investigate Fort Augustus in general, it would not have been proportionate to designate survivors claiming to have been abused at Fort Augustus as core participants. But they were so designated.

The chair, designated the Fort Augustus survivors some time after Mr. Emmerson's speech which Ms. Karmy-Jones quoted. So she clearly thought she had the right to conduct a general investigation of Fort Augustus and has held that view for some time. It would definitely have been disproportionate to make designations of survivors of abuse at in institution outside the scope of the inquiry. So this proposal not to investigate Fort Augustus in general can't possibly be down merely to a clarification of the intentions the inquiry had all along. This is a definite proposal to change the scope of the investigation.

And the question has to be asked why the decision to propose this change? An obvious answer is that the inquiry is under-resourced and behind schedule, and needs to jettison as many investigations as it can get away with. But if that were true, they wouldn't be able to say so because Professor Jay has promised that the inquiry scope wouldn't be reduced. So they have tried to reduce the scope while kidding everyone (including themselves) that they are doing nothing of the sort. It won't do.

No comments:

Post a Comment