Independent Jersey Care Inquiry
The long awaited publication on 3rd July 2017 of the report of the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry (IJCI) brought to a conclusion the work of the panel which started in 2014 after the chair, Frances Oldham QC, and panel members, Alyson Leslie and Professor Sandy Cameron CBE, were first selected in the autumn of 2013.
As is often the case with such public inquiries, much of the public comment and media reporting in Jersey during the course of the inquiry was inevitably critical. The initial cost estimate of £6 million for the inquiry proved to be woefully inadequate, with the total cost to February 2017 is just under £15 million for the inquiry itself, and a further £6.6 million for the Jersey government to respond to the inquiry. There were concerns among politicians and the public about these rising costs, about some of the inquiry’s procedures and protocols, and about the time that the panel, which was initially asked to complete its work in a clearly unrealistic timescale of a year, was taking to complete its work. The panel nevertheless remained steadfast in its determination, as stated by the chair at the outset, not to speak to the media or engage with critics during the inquiry, and to conduct its work independently and rigorously in the way it saw fit. The inquiry panel was clearly of the view that the ‘proof of the pudding would be in the eating’ once its final report was published, and that it could allay the concerns expressed by critics through the publication of a comprehensive report that, not only catalogued and commented on past events but also made sensible recommendations for the future.
Anyone reading the 832-page main report, together with the 62-page executive summary and a third volume of recommendations and appendices running to some 300 pages, cannot really fail to agree that the panel has met its objectives. The report is a forensic examination of the experiences of children in care in Jersey since 1945, with a remarkable level of precise detail about individual events drawn from witness statements, oral evidence and the many thousands of documents that the inquiry team examined. The inquiry has taken great care not to make findings about issues where there was, in its opinion, insufficient evidence to do so but, whilst the inquiry had no ability to determine whether alleged abusers were guilty or not, the panel has nevertheless not shied away from making robust criticisms of some individuals who worked in the care system, a number of whom are named in the report.
One week after the report’s publication, perhaps the most significant indicator that the panel has succeeded in its task is that the report has been universally accepted in Jersey, with even some of the strongest critics throughout the process now welcoming it. The chief minister of Jersey, Senator Ian Gorst, has made it clear that the Government of Jersey will take urgent steps to implement the recommendations, with an additional £1.8 million of funding already allocated for this purpose. The authorities in Jersey clearly have urgent work to do as, although it was always clear that the report would highlight serious past failings, no-one perhaps expected the finding that current services for children in care in Jersey remain inadequate, and it is clearly of concern, as pointed out by the panel, that the fifth director of social services in five years recently left her post after only a few months in office. It is not perhaps surprising that the main national news headlines about the report on the day of its publication centred on the inquiry’s conclusion that there can, unfortunately, be no guarantee that children in care in Jersey today are safe.
Jersey has an enviable reputation as one of the world’s most well-regulated financial centres, meeting the highest international standards in the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing, with regular inspections and evaluations by international bodies. Some giving evidence to the inquiry considered that the island government’s focus on legislation relating to finance had been to the detriment of social legislation relating to the care of children. The reality, as the island moves forward to implement the inquiry’s recommendations, is that the two things do not need to be mutually exclusive. If the significant expenditure on this inquiry is to be worthwhile, Jersey must be in a position in the relatively near future where it not only has a well-deserved reputation as a world leader in financial services but is also a world leader in the way in which it looks after its most vulnerable children who are in need of care. The IJCI has set out a path that will enable the island to meet that objective, and the challenge now is for the island authorities to deliver.
It is worth mentioning in conclusion that one of the reasons for the success of the inquiry is undoubtedly that no-one has ever been able to seriously criticise the panel’s independence or impartiality. The chair of the ICJI, Frances Oldham QC, was selected in 2013 from a number of candidates following a rigorous process of shortlisting and interviewing by a panel that was totally independent of the chief minister and Government of Jersey, chaired by Michael de la Haye OBE, then Greffier of the States of Jersey (Clerk to the States Assembly), and comprising Ed Marsden, managing director of Verita and Belinda Smith, senior legal counsel – child protection at the NSPCC. The chair designate, Frances Oldham QC, then joined the same selection panel to interview and select the two-panel members, Alyson Leslie and Professor Sandy Cameron CBE. Great efforts were made by the selection panel to ensure that those chosen had the necessary professional background and personal qualities to deal with those who had suffered abuse and to identify whether candidates had any potential conflicts of interest, whether real or perceived. This rigorous and independent process can perhaps be contrasted with the difficulties highlighted in recent times in the UK where two chairmen had to step down from the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse before Professor Alexis Jay was appointed and where there has more recently been controversy over the appointment of Sir Martin Moore-Bick to chair the Grenfell Tower inquiry.