On the 9th April 2015 the child abuse inquiry website published a “Call for applications or nominations” for something called the “Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel” (VSCP).
The call starts with some fine words. “Justice Goddard has made it clear that she fully agrees with the Home Secretary’s view that the experiences of victims and survivors need to be placed at the centre of the Inquiry’s work. Victims and survivors will be given a strong voice and play a defined role in the institutional arrangements that she is putting in place.”
The document goes on to explain that there will be eight members of the VSCP. It describes the key criteria for membership of the panel:
a) Experience of issues associated with institutional responses to child sexual abuse
b) Experience of working collectively and collaboratively as part of a team and
c) Holds a current mandate to represent the interests of a defined group of victims or survivors of child sexual abuse.
Strictly speaking the role doesn’t require VSCP members to be victims or survivors of abuse.
The document also describes the amount of time that VSCP members will be expected to put in to the panel work: two days a month for ordinary panel members and four days a month for the chair. Also it is noted that panel members will be paid an honarium and will be reimbursed travel expenses.
What isn’t stated is what the panel will do. There are no Terms of Reference, even though Justice Goddard made a statement on March 12th (posted on the inquiry website) in which she states the following:
“I am currently considering appropriate terms of reference for the VSCP and an appropriate procedure for nomination or application. I will shortly publish the criteria for appointment and put out a public call for nominations and applications.”
This has been done the wrong way round. You don’t ask for nominations before you have defined the terms of reference. Anybody competent among the charities and other organisations helping and representing survivors won’t go near the panel without knowing what it is supposed to do. By virtue of receiving an honarium and being an institutional part of the inquiry, it is very likely that VSCP members have to sign a contract in which they will be bound by confidentiality and collective responsibility obligations. So potential VSCP members are expected to sign up to such arrangements without knowing what (if anything) they will be asked or permitted to do.
Furthermore, apart from the VSCP chair they won’t be permitted to do anything much other than what they are specifically asked. It is only the VSCP chair who will be able to approach Justice Goddard on “issues other than those on which [the panel’s] advice has been specifically sought”. And, it is only the VSCP chair who will be invited to attend meetings of the Inquiry panel and then only “as and when required”.
We therefore have a proposed panel whose purpose is unstated and whose individual members will not be able to be pro-active in raising issues with the inquiry, but who in all probability will be subject to confidentiality and collective responsibility obligations.
Justice Goddard in her March 12th statement also said the following:
“I fully agree with the Home Secretary’s view that the experiences of victims and survivors need to be placed at the centre of the Inquiry’s work. Victims and survivors must be given a strong voice and they will play a defined role in the institutional arrangements I intend putting in place.”
Well, that isn’t what is happening. This is not placing the “experiences of victims and survivors” at the centre of the Inquiry’s work, and the role in the institutional arrangements could hardly be more thoroughly undefined. And what of the survivors voice? Well that will be insipidly weak because their role has been defined only to be heard “as and when required” by Justice Goddard.
Those who consider applying for the VSCP are in danger of being nothing more than decoration without meaningful function other than to burnish the credibility of the inquiry.
The creation of a meaningless VSCP could all too easily result in unhappy members who in time may resign with further damage to the credibility of the CSA inquiry.