“Can we live out the rest of our lives with dignity?”21st November 2017
Joint Member Meeting – SIBF and Haemophilia Scotland, Saturday 20th January 201818th December 2017
SIBF took part in a meeting with Damian Green, the First Secretary of State and Minister for the Cabinet Office, on Tuesday 12th of December.
This was the third meeting UK Government officials had organised for Damain Green to personally hear from the infected and affected community, since the Cabinet Office took over responsibility for the UK Public Inquiry from the much crticised Ministry of Health. The other two meetings took place on Thursday 7th of December.
The key items for SIBF that we discussed with Damian Green included:
- The Inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 should consist of a Chair and Panel (not Chair and Advisers/Assessors), including the Act’s provision that the Panel can democratically out-vote the Chair on issues if necessary. We highlighted the fundamental distinction between Assessors and Panel members as some in the community seemed to have conflated the two.
- The Inquiry should not necessarily led by a Judge, who may be seen as “Establishment”, or it could be Chaired by a figure similar in stature to Bishop James Jones who led the Hillsborough Independent Panel.
- We then stated two key suggestions:
- Key suggestion 1: individual panel members can lead on relevant topics and take this forward in parallel (rather than a lengthy linear process) thus speeding up the Inquiry timescales while still allowing for a full and thorough Inquiry “with no stone left unturned”.
- Key suggestion 2: an option to set up a Victim/Survivors’ Reference Group, made up of representatives of infected and affected people, to provide a two-way communication channel during the Inquiry and helping to avoid disruptions due to mis-matched interpretations or expectations.
Terms of Reference
- We insisted there should be a full consultation of up to 3 months as is recognised good practice, not the 4 to 6 weeks muted previously by officials.
- Draft Terms of Reference need to be “very” draft, with a public commitment that the process will be designed not just to “listen”, but be open to significant changes to what is originally drafted (i.e. no hint of a “fait accompli”)
- Move away from language that the Inquiry is to investigate matters “leading up to the disaster”, because what happened after the period of infections is just as crucial a part of the Inquiry. This was a key criticism we brought up and was a left-over that required to be addressed from the Department of Health’s attempted oversight and sponsoring of the Inquiry set-up.
- We stipulated assurance was needed that the devolved administrations would be part of the setting up process, and be designated as core participants in their own right, and that core participants will have “equality of arms” in respect of legal representation across the nation-states.
SIBF Convener John Rice said
The meeting was congenial but productive. SIBF’s key issues were tabled concisely and we have felt our concerns have been listened to. We hope this was not just a tck-box exercie as so many public consultations have ended up being in the past. We understand the Cabinet Office are keen to appoint an Inquiry Chair before Christmas and we hope the ‘right’ Chair can be appointed, rather than rushed into position, who will carry the support of the infected and affected community of the UK and listen to and address our informed views and experience.