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Child Sexual Abuse

Volume 585: debated on Friday 5 September 2014

Further to my statement to the House on 7 July and my written ministerial statement of 9 July 2014, Official Report, column 20WS, I am pleased to announce that I have appointed Fiona Woolf CBE, JP to be the chairman of the independent inquiry panel of experts in the law and child protection, to consider whether public bodies—and other, non-state, institutions—have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse.

Fiona Woolf has had a long and distinguished career holding high-profile and challenging positions, including President of the Law Society and Chairman of the Association of Women Solicitors (AWS), and is only the second woman since 1189 to hold the position of Lord Mayor of London. As a lawyer, and latterly partner, at CMS Cameron McKenna for over 20 years, Fiona Woolf has worked in over 40 jurisdictions. She has advised over 25 Governments and multilateral agencies such as the World Bank. She has also served as a member of the Competition Commission for eight years.

I am confident that Fiona Woolf has the skills and experience needed to set the strategic direction of the inquiry, to lead the work of the panel, and to challenge individuals and institutions without fear or favour to get to the bottom of this issue, and stop it happening again.

To help her in this role, and to ensure that the inquiry delivers the thorough, robust and independent review that I have promised, she will be supported by a panel of distinguished experts, and will be able to call upon expert advisers as required.

It is vital that the panel has access to independent expert legal advice and I am pleased to be able to announce that Counsel to the Inquiry will be Ben Emmerson QC, founder of Matrix Chambers and one of the UK’s most distinguished lawyers in the field of national and international human rights law. I can also confirm two panel members: Graham Wilmer MBE, founder of the Lantern Project, which was established in 2003 to provide help and support for survivors of sexual abuse and Barbara Hearn OBE, former deputy Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau. Each of them has a track record of giving a voice to vulnerable people and will bring important expertise and experience to the inquiry.

I can also announce that Professor Alexis Jay has agreed to act as an expert adviser to the panel. Her recent report “Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham (1997—2013)” exposed a terrible example of child sexual abuse and exploitation; and her experience and insight will, I am sure, be of benefit to the inquiry.

The other panel members will be announced in due course once they have been appointed by the chairman.

Fiona Woolf will agree the terms of reference with the full panel, once they are appointed, to ensure that they are sufficient to deliver the robust inquiry which is required. I will report back to the House on this as soon as possible.