David Enright (Howe & Co.’s child abuse team lead) attended a preview meeting to review the IICSA’s interim report this morning (25th April) along with Sam Stein QC of Nexus Chambers who represents many survivors before the Inquiry. The following is their initial reaction to the Inquiry’s Report; a further and more in depth response will follow.
Shocking Scale of Child Abuse
The Interim report pulls back the veil on the shocking scale of child abuse in England and Wales. The Report reveals, at pages 30 and 31 that:
“According to the 2015 – 16 Crime Survey for England and Wales, 7 % or people aged between 16 and 59 reported that they were sexually abused as a child…. latest police data shows that the number of sexual offences against children under 16 in England and Wales more than doubled between 2013 and 2017, increasing from 24,085 to 53,496”
However, the Report goes on to find that, “…the operational data will always underestimate the scale of child abuse. …. the Children’s Commissioner for England, which found that only 1 in 8 sexual offences against children come to the attention of the police or local authority.”
Therefore, if only 1 in 8 offences are reported, this means that there were at least 425,000 child abuse offences in 2017.
Howe & Co.’s impact on Inquiry’s recommendations
Chapter 7 of the Interim Report sets out the Inquiry’s current recommendations. It appears that submissions made by Howe & Co on behalf of its clients have had a significant impact upon the Inquiry’s recommendations.
Howe & Co has repeatedly and publicly argued that the Inquiry should make recommendations for a redress scheme for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, where local or national government failed in their duty of care for children.
The Inquiry, in its recommendations in the Child Migrant Programme Investigation, recommends
“…establish[ing] the financial redress scheme without delay and expects that payments should start being made within 12 months…”
In relation to the Inquiry’s recommendations on the much needed overhaul of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme; the three recommendations are all consistent with recommendations that Howe & Co have repeatedly called for including:
These and other recommendations, for example in relation to the recommendation that Department of Health and Social Care, Education, Home Office and Ministry of Justice work together to establish current levels of public expenditure, and the effectiveness of that expenditure on services for child victims and adult survivors of child abuse in England, are to be welcomed. However, there are some areas where the Inquiry could and should have done better at this stage.
What is this Report
This interim report is exactly what it says, and perhaps could be retitled as a ‘stop-check’ or a ‘work in progress’. Although the report contains a number of compelling findings and some excellent recommendations, which we will return to below, the Report has missed opportunities to make important recommendation now. For example, the Inquiry did not tackle the operation of the Limitation Act 1980 in child abuse case in this report but has put this off till a later date. At page 56 of the Report the Inquiry finds:
“The Limitation Act 1980 was identified as an obstacle to accessing justice as some victims and survivors of child sexual abuse are prevented from making a civil claim because too much time has elapsed since the abuse took place. This is an important issue that the inquiry will consider further, particularly as other jurisdictions, including Scotland, have legislated to exclude limitation considerations from child sexual abuse claims”.
Roman Catholic Church
The Inquiry has clearly felt that it cannot set out any conclusions in the areas where there have been some public hearings but these are incomplete. For example the Inquiry says of the English Benedictine Congregation hearing into Ampleforth and Downside Abbey Schools that (p.45):
“The inquiry is still considering its findings in relation to this public hearing and these will be published in a separate investigation report later this year”.
Although the Inquiry has a number of further hearings on the Catholic Church in which we are representing many of the survivors; we do feel that the Inquiry could have indicated some findings now and trailed recommendations that may follow.
The overall theme of this interim report can be found in its emphasis on the “need for a culture change in relation to attitudes towards child sexual abuse, the role of leadership in supporting this culture change and issues relating to staff practise and safe recruitment”.
We have found from working within this area for many years that the survivors of abuse agree with the need to refocus on abuse, understand better that the abused child’s life can be destroyed, or at least very badly affected by the abuse, and that stopping the abuse requires putting children first, and always first.
The Inquiry’s emphasis on a need for a change in culture can clearly be seen throughout the Interim report and the Report’s recommendations. This is to be welcomed.
Within the area of child migration the Inquiry recommends that an apology be provided by the Institutions who have failed the child migrants. The Inquiry recommends that a compensation scheme be established for child migrants without any regard to any other payments of compensation.
This may be a helpful pointer in the direction of a wider compensation fund which Howe & Co have and will continue to argue for within the Accountability and Reparations investigation which is due to start it public hearing this year.
Civil Justice System
The Civil Justice System is targeted by the interim report, which recommends that all witnesses in the civil courts have the same level of vulnerable witness protection, as they would do within the Criminal Justice system. Perhaps the interim report should have gone further and recommended that the be a joint scheme for the civil courts and criminal courts so that evidence which should be given by the Survivor should only be given once and used in both civil and criminal cases.
The police service is considered by the Interim Report. Some of the Inquiry’s recommendations are welcome. For example, the proposal for a better recognition of the importance of having worked within the area of CSA and that such work and training should be a pre-requisite for advancement into senior ranks in the Police. This is a very sensible recommendation and should serve to guarantee the importance of understanding CSA throughout the ranks of the police service.
Clearly there is more work to be done in this area as the report is ‘light’ on the need to ensure that complaints to the police are dealt with carefully and added to by appropriate referrals to the support services that may be suitable. This again will need to be developed in future submissions that Howe & Co will make on the question of police engagement with survivors, first contact with the police and any other agency who received complaints; plus the shameful lack of funding (and withdrawal of funding) for the support networks who assist people who have been abused, such as refuges.
The Report’s theme of making sure that there is an increased awareness of the prevalence of abuse and the need to take steps to protect children is also strong in the Interim report. The Report argues for a referral of any adverse finding on fitness to practise in any area to be kept by a central register. This again will be a point Howe & Co will be taking up on behalf of survivors; as the question of whether there has been an adverse finding needs to be considered across the board and into areas where there is not a professional body that can act or intervene. Further there is a need to understand and agree what is an adverse finding? Often evidence builds up and across employment areas. It may be that an adverse finding might be made or a conclusion reached without there being a formal hearing. This question of sufficiency of evidence and build up of likelihood requires further work and attention.
In the short time we have had to consider the Report we see positives, negatives, good intentions and further work to be done.
We can appreciate the work that has been done by the Inquiry and we can applaud the clear good intentions to make changes that the Report signals. However, the pace of the this Inquiry’s work remains too slow, and we recognise that for many survivors that the frustration of having this ongoing and lengthy inquiry brings back such difficult memories and a burning desire for action and change.
Funding is not targeted by this Interim Report despite its recommendation for changes and changes in attitude towards CSA. There needs to be an up front recognition that without adequate funding and resources being provided then recommendations will remain just recommendations.
However, our view is that this report provides the foundations for our future submissions; including that anybody who works with children must be better trained, better recognised and better supported. There is a need to recognise that some people want to work with children because they want to abuse children. So far this report has not identified best practise in identifying potential abusers before they gain access to children.
If we stitch together the themes from this report we can see that it is beginning to grasp the need, which all survivors have understood for too many years, that children must be protected first and always. However the end game for this Inquiry is still some time away.
We must welcome the positive elements of this report, point out where it is lacking and press on to get the very best outcomes, protections and support for child victims and adult survivors.
The full interim report can be found here
David Enright – Howe & Co
Sam Stein QC – Nexus Chambers