The Goddard inquiry, an independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, opened on 9 July 2015 (after some chaos when the inquiry was first announced in July 2014. The first two Chairs stepped down). Justice Lowell Goddard, a New Zealand High Court judge, made an introductory statement, setting out the procedures, timetables and remit of the Inquiry. She said that the Inquiry "provides a unique opportunity to expose past failures of institutions to protect children, to confront those responsible, to uncover systemic failures, to provide support to victims and survivors, in sharing their experiences, and to make recommendations that will help prevent the sexual abuse and exploitation of children in the future." The Inquiry will investigate whether public bodies (and independent schools are within its remit) have protected children from sexual abuse in England and Wales and will expose any failings that come to light. Justice Goddard has stated that she hopes the Inquiry will be concluded by 2020. In the meantime, the intention is to publish regular annual reports, containing recommendations, starting from 2016. More frequent updates may also be published.
Members of the Inquiry Panel were announced as:
- Professor Malcolm Evans, an international lawyer specialising in freedom of religion and prevention of torture (leading the inquiry into education and religious entities)
- Ivor Frank, a barrister with experience in child protection, human rights and family law.
- Professor Alexis Jay, a former director of social services who led the inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and
- Drusilla Sharpling, a former chief Crown prosecutor who subsequently inspected policing responses to child abuse.
Many independent schools have been facing allegations of abuse against present or former members of staff. We have been and continue to advise a number of these and in March 2015 we published our checklist for schools facing such allegations . The way in which any allegations are handled by the School and how the School communicates with the current parent body and pupils may have a significant on the reputation of the School.
Justice Goddard has urged organisations to review their records and to take the initiative by self-reporting instances of ‘institutional failure’ rather than waiting to be contacted. She has written to institutions, including religious organisations and local authorities, on the subject of retaining records.
We have published guidance to schools on retention of records. In light of the Inquiry we recommend that schools take advice before destroying documents relating to either pupils or to staff which may become relevant to the Inquiry. Schools should also review their procedures relating to retention of documents and ensure that all staff are aware of their obligations.
A judgement call may need to be made as to whether to self-report and this is likely to depend on all the facts. Schools should take legal advice and contact their insurers before disclosing information in this way.