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The Goddard Inquiry - What You Need to Know

on Friday, 18 March 2016.

The purpose of this article is to get you up to speed on the current position, to answer FAQs and to provide a mechanism for you to sign up to receive relevant updates.

What is it?

The Inquiry is a formal statutory investigation with an extraordinarily broad remit. Until now, the best known statutory Inquiry has been the Leveson Inquiry.

It is governed by the Inquiries Act 2005 and the Inquiry Rules 2006 and has the power to compel the disclosure of information and/or persons or organisations to give evidence. It is a criminal offence to fail to comply with such an order or to destroy or alter evidence that may be relevant to the Inquiry or to do anything with the intention of suppressing evidence.

What will it cover?

Its terms of reference include an investigation of the extent to which institutions have failed to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation; to consider the extent to which failings have since been addressed and to make recommendation for the protection of children from future abuse.

The Inquiry is limited to England and Wales, and to the institutional abuse of children under 18. However, there is no fixed time limit for the Inquiry or the period under investigation and nearly £18m has been budgeted for the first year alone.

How will it work?

The Inquiry is split into five distinct but complementary workstreams, which include one headed 'education and religion'. The Inquiry's methodology comprises three complementary and simultaneous ways of working, each of which will contribute to the work of all five workstreams:

  • the Research Project - a comprehensive literature and research review
     
  • the Truth Project - private meetings with victims and survivors of abuse whose details will be kept anonymous
     
  • the Public Hearings Project - public hearings of at least five paradigm cases per workstream which are illustrative of the pattern of institutional failings alleged followed by hearings of wider institutional issues and lessons learnt. These are likely to be televised

The Inquiry has announced and published details of the first 13 institution specific and thematic investigations that will be undertaken. These are not being undertaken sequentially so it is important to track the progress of all which may be relevant.

There is a single investigation directly relating to schools at present which focuses on child sexual abuse in residential schools, but schools may find themselves involved in other investigations (such as those of the Catholic or Anglican Church or thematic investigations) and other education specific investigations are expected to follow.

The Inquiry is continually updating its website with its plans for investigations and guidance notes about aspects of the Inquiry, and the first preliminary hearings have taken place this month which provide further guidance.

If we are asked for information?

If you are asked for information by the Inquiry, you should provide it and be ready to do so within a short timeframe. Information should not be redacted or anonymised, but care should be taken to avoid disclosing privileged documents without obtaining advice on this, as its release could compromise its privileged status.

How are the case studies selected?

These will be selected by the Inquiry with reference to information obtained from the Research and Truth Projects. They are intended to be illustrative of the pattern of institutional failings alleged in the workstream under consideration.

This may relate to a particular institution or group about which the Inquiry has received apparently credible information of a failure to protect children from abuse, either because an individual was enabled to commit sexual offences or because of repeated or systemic failings.

How can we avoid being selected as a case study?

We have no answer to this one, but would be pleased to discuss tactics on an individual basis.

What is a core participant?

Core participant status allows a person or organisation to be more closely involved in the Inquiry - to have the right to the disclosure of documents, to make representations at hearings, to ask questions of witnesses and to see a draft of the relevant report.

However, the costs of such status are significant and it is unlikely that the Inquiry will fund the costs for institutions. Applications need to be considered carefully.

The Inquiry invites applications for core participant status for each investigation within a short specified period. It will not consider applications outside of these timeframes unless there is a very good reason to do so.

What should we do now?

  • Preserve/collate documents
    All schools should ensure that any documents which could be relevant to the Inquiry are preserved for its duration, regardless of whether you have received a formal notice from the Inquiry about this. Schools may be required to provide documents within a short timeframe and we suggest that you take steps now to understand the records you hold, to collate relevant documents and to extract any privileged material to facilitate a review of the school's response to historic issues.
     
  • Establish an internal 'Goddard team' to assess the risks the Inquiry presents to your school, to keep a watching brief on the progress of the investigations and to manage your possible involvement.
     
  • Review issues
    Many schools will have faced an allegation of the sexual abuse of one of their pupils or relating to a member of staff at some stage in their history. It is unlikely that any school will avoid the potential for scrutiny. We suggest that schools review their records now in order to consider their response to historic issues and determine an appropriate strategy for dealing with the Inquiry and any consequent PR issues in the light of this.
     
  • Review insurance position
    Although the Inquiry cannot make findings of criminal or civil liability, it can make findings of fact that are relevant to liability and it is widely recognised that it may precipitate claims for compensation. We recommend that schools take steps now to track their insurance history and to liaise with appropriate insurers regarding appropriate notifications. The Association of British Insurers has just released a guidance note on insurers' recommended approach to inquiries and investigations.
     
  • Consider PR and communications
    It is in our view likely that the Inquiry will uncover some sector failings in the course of the Inquiry. This could lead to criticism of individual schools and the sector as a whole. This creates a PR risk for schools which should be considered as part of the school's risk management planning. Schools may wish to prepare appropriate communications to staff and parents. Some insurers may cover the costs of obtaining specialist PR advice to assist with such communications.
     
  • Consider whether to self-report
    Hon. Dame Lowell Goddard has made clear that institutions should take a proactive stance towards the Inquiry by reviewing files, records and procedures voluntarily and taking the initiative to self-report instances of institutional failure. This is not without risk and should be considered carefully by schools on a case by case basis.
     
  • Review your current safeguarding policies  
    Hon. Dame Lowell Goddard has advised institutions 'above all' to review their current safeguarding practices to make sure they are consistent with best practice and to take whatever steps you can to provide a safer environment for children now. This is essential in preserving trust and in our view is sage advice in this context as well as in the wider safeguarding compliance arena.

Where can I find out more?

If you would like to sign up for regular updates and FAQs on the Inquiry, please email us.

Guidance offered by sector associations may also be of interest, for example, the ISC's introduction and guidance document on the Inquiry.


We are pleased to be working with Alder Media and Blackstone Chambers on the Goddard Inquiry to ensure that you can access specialist advice quickly.


If you have any queries about this article, or would like to discuss how the Inquiry may impact on your school, please contact our Independent Schools specialists Tabitha Cave on 0117 314 5381 or Matthew Burgess on 0117 314 5338.

 

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