The cost of justice

26 Feb 2016

As Hon. Lowell Goddard's independent inquiry into child sex abuse begins to investigate the role played by local authorities in historical abuse, BLM partner, Paula Jefferson discusses the potential impact on limited resources.  The following article has been published in the latest edition of Local Government Executive and can be accessed online here.

Since the watershed moment of Operation Yewtree's investigation into claims made against Jimmy Savile and other media personalities, there has been increasing disclosure of historical child sex abuse at myriad organisations, including local authorities. Three years on, as the Goddard Inquiry begins an unprecedented investigation into these murky waters, the issue of ensuring justice with fewer and fewer resources has never been more pertinent.

The latest statistics from the NSPCC highlight that in 2012-13, the year that Yewtree was launched, the financial burden of child sexual abuse on the UK economy was £3.2bn. This included not just social healthcare but also the bill for civil compensation. Looking to the years ahead, an additional cost must be added to that for the work of the inquiry.

The inquiry's remit is vast. The initial investigations, announced at the end of November, along with the large number of research projects that will guide future investigations, are evidence that the inquiry intends to look at all areas of society. Such a comprehensive inquiry brings with it a significant monetary and human cost both to central government and to all those organisations who will be actively involved. This will include not just those local authorities already mentioned in the initial investigations but also others who may contribute to the current thematic and future investigations.

Local authorities will be all too aware of the important role they play in this sensitive arena and the vital impact their cooperation will provide for those affected by historical abuse. Local authorities will rightly support the inquiry but there will be an inevitable impact on their limited resources.

Some £17.9m from the public purse has been put aside for the inquiry for 2015-16, with future expenditure plans to be revealed later. By comparison, a similar inquiry in Australia has cost £140m to date and has not yet finished its work. This hints at the level of costs that will be incurred by the time the inquiry concludes its work, currently planned to be by December 2020.

Are local authorities prepared for the part they will play? Those local authorities named in the first investigations will already or soon be receiving detailed requests for documentation. Responses to such requests will be required in relatively short periods of time. They will be extensively covering current and past safeguarding policies and procedures; details of staff recruitment and training; information about previous disclosures of abuse and responses to the same. Stating that documents cannot be found won't be acceptable. Oral evidence will also be required from current and past employees.

Local authorities should be preparing for participation now. Some will need to be core participants and the inquiry has already indicated it will limit the occasions where it agrees to pay the legal costs of core participants.

This is all-important work to ensure the best possible child protection now and in the future, and to provide an opportunity for those who have been abused to be heard. But it does so at a significant cost to already limited resources.

In addition, the inquiry's accountability and reparations investigation has the potential for significant change to the civil compensation system. As the Irish Redress Board draws to a conclusion and redress is recommended in Australia, and will be recommended in Northern Ireland, it seems most likely something similar will be recommended in England and Wales. If that does occur then it is not clear whether such payments would be covered by insurance. This could place an additional strain on limited resources.

It will be an interesting few years as the inquiry progresses and ultimately, if it achieves its core aim of protecting children then that will be a benefit for all of society. But it cannot do that without much human pain for the survivors and cost being incurred in the process.

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Disclaimer: This document does not present a complete or comprehensive statement of the law, nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight issues that may be of interest to customers of BLM. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in any particular case.

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Paula Jefferson

Paula Jefferson

Partner, head of office and head of abuse & neglect practice group,

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