12 Feb 2015

NZ judge promises independence in abuse inquiry

9:24 am on 12 February 2015

The judge leading the inquiry into historical child sex abuse in England and Wales has told parliamentarians in London she has no links to any person or institution which it might scrutinise.

Justice Lowell Goddard

Justice Lowell Goddard Photo: AFP

Lowell Goddard has been appointed to chair a Statutory Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, one of Britain's biggest ever such inquiries.

She is the third person to be appointed to chair the investigation after two earlier heads stood aside when they were accused of being too close to establishment figures who could be implicated.

Claims of paedophiles in Westminster in the 1980s sparked the inquiry and cases under investigation could date back to the 1970s.

Justice Goddard told the Home Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons said there was not such a thing as an "establishment" in New Zealand.

She also told MPs she did not think it was essential to have a survivor of abuse on the inquiry panel.

Justice Goddard promised complete independence when she appeared before the committee for a pre-appointment hearing, having been chosen by Home Secretary Theresa May to lead the inquiry.

Speaking about the timescale of the inquiry, she said her first task would be to consider its "scope", but she expected it to last three to four years.

Interim reports would probably be published, she said.

Asked what she would do if she encountered any interference from "on high", Justice Goddard said: "It's a statutory inquiry so there are the powers under the statute.

"They of course would be utilised and my approach would be to proceed absolutely according to law."

Asked if she considered herself part of the "establishment", Justice Goddard said: "We don't have such a thing in my country.

"I did have to ask carefully exactly what is meant by it so that I did understand what I was being asked to disclose.

"My understanding [of the question] is - do I have any links into any institution or any person relevant to the subject matter of the inquiry? And no, I don't."

She said the inquiry would be "completely independent" and, though Mrs May will propose members of its panel, Justice Goddard said there would be no "practical point" choosing anyone she could not work with.

The judge said she did not think it was essential to have abuse survivors on the panel and, having met survivors' groups on Tuesday, the "vast majority" agreed.

The original inquiry panel of eight people was dissolved when Justice Goddard was appointed and she said her "instinct" was that her panel would be smaller.

"My view is that the survivors' groups can be much more effectively represented by a broader advisory panel which is external to the inquiry panel," she said.

The inquiry 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".

Justice Goddard said it would seek to "revisit past wrongs", find out what happened and look at what is currently happening to ensure there is "not only redress but, most importantly, that children now and for the future are protected".

Baroness Butler-Sloss, Mrs May's first choice as inquiry chairwoman, resigned a week after it was set up in July. She faced calls to quit because her late brother, Sir Michael Havers, was attorney general in the 1980s.

Her replacement, Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf, stood down on 31 October amid concerns over her links to former Home Secretary Lord Brittan.