It has been revealed that Professor Alexis Jay will take over from Dame Lowell Goddard in leading the independent inquiry into child sex abuse.
The announcement comes after Lowell Goddard became the third chairwoman of the Inquiry to resign since it was set up by the government in 2014.
In a statement released shortly after her resignation on 4 August 2016, Lowell Goddard said:
The conduct of any public inquiry is not an easy task, let alone one of the magnitude of this. Compounding the many difficulties was its legacy of failure which has been very hard to shake off and with hindsight it would have been better to have started completely afresh.
Prior to her resignation she had been criticised for spending too much time in New Zealand, where she is from, and not fully committing to the inquiry. She later said in her statement that accepting the role was “an incredibly difficult step to take, as it meant relinquishing my career in New Zealand and leaving behind my beloved family.”
A bit about Professor Alexis Jay…
Professor Alexis Jay has been on the Panel of the Independent Inquiry since 2015. On 11 August 2016 – 7 days after Lowell Goddard’s resignation – Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced Professor Jay would become the fourth chairperson to lead the independent inquiry into child sex abuse.
Professor Jay is a child protection expert with over 30 years’ experience. She led the 2013 independent inquiry into child sex abuse reportedly taking place in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, between 1997 and 2013. In her initial report published in 2014 she revealed that, at a ‘conservative estimate’, 1,400 children had been sexually exploited in Rotherham in those years. Three previous inquiries had presented similar findings but Jay said these had been ‘effectively suppressed‘ because ‘officials did not believe the data‘.
On being appointed to the role, Jay said this:
I am committed to ensuring this inquiry does everything it has set out to do and does so with pace, with confidence and with clarity.
Be in no doubt – the inquiry is open for business and people are busier than ever working hard to increase momentum. The panel and I are determined to make progress on all parts of the inquiry’s work, including speaking to victims and survivors.
She also said she was “determined to overcome the challenges along the way” and will make recommendations “so that the children of England and Wales are better protected now and in the future“.
Why was this Inquiry set up in the first place?
The government’s announcement of a public inquiry into child sex abuse came in the wake of revelations that prominent figures Jimmy Savile and Cyril Smith had committed many acts of sexual abuse on children before their deaths in 2011 and 2010. It was said that they should have been prosecuted for them in their lifetimes. This in turn prompted allegations of a culture of covering up crimes that the government has a duty to investigate under human rights law.
The mandate of the inquiry is broad. It is to 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.
What has this got to do with human rights?
Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects everybody in the UK against inhuman and degrading treatment, including children. This is incorporated into UK law under the Human Rights Act. Human rights law also requires effective investigations into deaths and inhumane treatment. Because of human rights, it is illegal across the UK to beat children, families have legal protection from being separated and children are protected when giving evidence in courts.
What does this mean for the future?
It looks like the Inquiry is set to continue under the new leadership of Professor Alexis Jay. However, given the resignations of three of her predescessors Lady Butler-Sloss, Dame Fiona Woolf, and Dame Lowell Goddard before her, who knows what will happen next.
For more on children’s rights, check out our dedicated category page to children, our playful infographic on what human rights do for children, our newspiece on the UN’s report on the UK’s treatment of children, and how armed conflict affects children’s rights.