5 Feb 2015

NZ judge to lead UK abuse inquiry

8:52 am on 5 February 2015

The New Zealand High Court judge appointed to head a British child sex abuse inquiry demanded greater powers than the previous chairs before she accepted the position.

High Court judge Lowell Goddard has been named as the new head of the inquiry into historical child sex abuse in England and Wales.

Justice Goddard

Justice Goddard Photo: SUPPLIED

The inquiry, set up in July, was sparked by claims of paedophiles operating in the government in the 1980s.

It will investigate whether "public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse in England and Wales".

The two former appointees stood down amid concerns over their establishment links.

Justice Goddard told Morning Report before accepting the position she asked for greater authority.

"It is now going to be reconstituted as a statutory inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 so it will have all of the powers that are available to it; powers to summon witnesses, to take evidence."

British Home Secretary Theresa May's first choice as chair, Baroness Butler-Sloss, resigned a week after the inquiry was set up because her brother was attorney general in the 1980s. Then the Lord Mayor of London, Fiona Woolf, stood down in October amid questions over her links to a former Home Secretary.

Mrs May said Justice Goddard was "as removed as possible from the organisations and institutions that might become the focus of the inquiry".

The inquiry will have statutory powers and a new panel, Mrs May told the House of Commons.

A British lawyer specialising in abuse law, Andrew Lord, told Morning Report it was a brave step by the British Home Secretary to appoint a New Zealand judge, but it should provide impartiality.

Respected member of judiciary

Mrs May said Justice Lowell was a "highly respected" member of the judiciary and an "outstanding candidate with experience in challenging authority in this field".

"We must leave no stone unturned if we are to take this once in a generation opportunity to get to the truth," she said.

Justice Goddard will face a pre-appointment hearing before the Home Affairs Committee of MPs on 11 February to ensure "further transparency", Mrs May said.

She also said there would be a co-ordinated national policing response to follow up any lead the inquiry uncovers.

Justice Goddard, a serving Judge of the High Court of New Zealand, said she was "honoured" to lead the inquiry and was aware of the scale of the undertaking.

Justice Goddard was appointed Deputy Solicitor-General for New Zealand in 1992 and then to the High Court bench in December 1995. She has also sat as a member of the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal.

In 2007 she was appointed Chair of the Independent Police Conduct Authority, the first New Zealand woman to hold the position. Whilst she was Chair the authority released a report on the outcome of its inquiry into Police handling of child abuse cases (begun in August 2009).

Through her work at the IPCA Justice Goddard was elected as an independent expert to the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, a human rights body with international oversight of places of custody and detention.

In June 2014 she was appointed a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to law.