The inquiry into historical sex abuse of children was never fit for purpose and should be dismantled. Something may then be salvaged from the wreck. Like too many inquiries into past history, it was flawed from the start. The reason is that it confused two separate issues, a public interest in the failings of public administration, and a desire from a group of specific victims for justice. The home secretary responsible, Theresa May, clearly never understood the distinction.
No one reading of the suffering of victims of past sex abuse, as of Bloody Sunday, the Hillsborough tragedy or the Iraq war, could do other than sympathise. The survivors have a clear right to know what went wrong, including in their cases. But consideration has to be given to proportionality.
The sex abuse inquiry has become 13 separate inquiries costing tens of millions of pounds. Some have effectively become retrospective trials, but with the victims allowed in effect to vet the judges and the terms of reference. No statute of limitation applies. The inquiries have spawned so much police activity that it is reported that a third of police time in some forces is devoted to it. Is this in the public interest? These inquiries have become monuments to the collapsing self-confidence of British public administration. This cannot be in anyone’s interest, least of all the victims.
The right to justice is absolute. But as soon as it is recognised it is qualified. Historical sex abuse by its nature suffers from the passage of time, from witness reliability, the difficulty of collecting evidence and changed attitudes to sexual behaviour – however welcome that change has been. The impact on an individual of wrongs suffered decades ago is undeniable. But justice for the accuser has to be balanced with justice for the accused. The yearning for individual justice for a past injury is not the same as learning lessons and putting in place today the means of preventing them.
The reality is that time hands judgment for past injury into the hands of history. By the time they reported, the Bloody Sunday and Chilcot reports were of comfort to few but the historians. It is 10 years since a House of Commons committee pleaded for a curb on the use of public inquiries to remedy historical wrongs. It pleaded for them to concentrate on learning lessons for the future. It was ignored.
Child protection in Britain is desperately in need of resources. Yes, it should benefit from understanding the failings of the past. Yes, some inquiry is merited. But the priority for money and concern should be with today’s needs and tomorrow’s victims. That is the public interest.
News Source TheGuardianNews