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Fiona Woolf: Unsuitable to chair historic sex abuse inquiry? [Image: BBC.]

The BBC is reporting that a legal challenge has been launched against Fiona Woolf’s appointment as chair of an inquiry into historic child sex abuse.

The judicial review has been launched by a victim of exactly the kind of abuse Mrs Woolf will be investigating. She is the second chair appointed to this inquiry after Baroness Butler-Sloss was forced to step down due to fears over a conflict of interest affecting her suitability – and the second to face allegations that she should resign due to her connections, in this case with Leon Brittan, the former Home Secretary who apparently did nothing after a dossier containing allegations against more than 100 people was handed to him.

Will a Conservative-led government ever find someone to chair this inquiry who is free of any alleged connections to its subject matter?

Perhaps Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has found a way around this problem for them, since Mrs Woolf is being challenged by judicial review – and he has launched a bid to end the process.

According to politics.co.uk, his attack is particularly insidious. Rather than try to stop it altogether and face an outcry, Grayling set in motion a plan to price it out of the reach of “anyone but the most reckless and wealthy”.

The article states: “Part four of the criminal justice and courts bill tries to dismantle judicial review through a four-pronged attack. First, it restricts the use of protective costs. Second, it exposes friends, relatives and associates of a claimant to financial costs. Third, it makes charities and NGOs who get involved in a case liable for costs. And fourth, it shields public bodies which have acted unlawfully from public scrutiny.

“Protective costs limit how much of the other side’s legal costs you have to pay if you undertake the case. Without it, the financial costs of pursuing judicial review become very daunting. The bill prevent judges granting protective cost orders until permission is granted, a stage which already requires lots of expensive legal work to get to. It’s not even a problem – only a handful of these orders are granted a year anyway.

“Prong two of the attack makes claimant’s friends, colleagues, family and associates – anyone who might be able to help them financially, basically – liable to the legal costs. The emotional impact of this is severe. Someone may be willing to risk their own wellbeing and livelihood for something they believe in, but it feels entirely different if you’re risking the livelihood of those around you.

“The measure against charities and NGOs is basically an attack on expert commentary. You can see why. Officials at the Ministry of Justice always seem averse to hearing from experts, because experts so rarely agree with them. As things stand, they can only contribute expert advice and guidance with the permission of the court. Making them liable to costs just freezes out people who know what they’re talking about from participating in the legal process.

“Finally, a no-difference threshold will mean authorities can escape legal challenges even when they’re plainly acting improperly.”

It is too late for this legislation to affect the Fiona Woolf judicial review; it has already been launched and current rules will apply to it. But a government that has been embarrassed by this and many others will clearly want to rid itself of such interference – especially as it is interference by poor people.

You need to fight for this.

A good start will be getting in touch with your MP, or with the lords who have tabled amendments against the Grayling measures – Lord Pannick, Lord Woolf, Lord Carlile, and Lord Beecham. It seems they have not yet had a chance to debate those amendments.

The Tories are trying to take away your rights – again.

Are you going to let them?

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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