A senior UK lawyer with 36 years experience of family and criminal law matters is being nominated to chair the Committee of Inquiry into Historical Abuse.
Frances Oldham QC was first called to the Bar in 1977 and was appointed as Queen’s Counsel in 1994. She is regularly instructed in high profile cases in both criminal and family matters and has considerable experience dealing with cases involving sexual and physical abuse. She was appointed as a Crown Court Recorder in 1994 and is authorised to try serious cases involving rape and serious sexual offences. She has been a Deputy High Court Judge in the Family Division for over 10 years and she spends several weeks each year sitting as a judge in the criminal and family courts. She is also a judge for the Mental Health Restricted Patients Panel Tribunal and in 2012 she was appointed as a member of the QC Appointments Panel. She was leader of the Midland Circuit between 2002 and 2005 and Head of her Chambers for 7 years.
Mrs. Oldham’s nomination comes after the lawyer initially appointed to chair the inquiry, Mrs. Sally Bradley QC, became unwell in July and was unable to take up the position. The recruitment process for the replacement chairman has been undertaken by the same selection panel comprising Michael de la Haye, Greffier of the States, Belinda Smith, Senior Legal Counsel – Child Protection at the NSPCC and Ed Marsden, the Managing Partner of Verita. Informal discussions were held in the United Kingdom with 9 potential chairmen before 3 people were invited for a formal interview.
Mr. de la Haye said “The selection panel is unanimous in recommending Frances Oldham QC for this position. She has very extensive experience in many high profile cases in the UK and her combination of criminal and family law experience at the highest levels makes her eminently suitable to chair the inquiry in Jersey. She sits regularly as a judge in both the Crown Court and the Family Division of the High Court and she has vast experience of dealing with some of the most vulnerable members of society. Frances started her working career as a management trainee in the NHS before qualifying as a barrister and she was keen to point out to us that she did not come from a privileged background which undoubtedly, in our view, helps her to relate well to people from all walks of life. The selection panel is convinced that she has exactly the right combination of empathy and firmness to chair the inquiry successfully in a totally independent and objective way.”
Following the selection of Mrs. Oldham to chair the inquiry the selection panel is now working with her to finalise the appointment of 2 committee members from the United Kingdom for the inquiry. The selection process for the members was already well underway before the summer but had to be placed on hold following the news of the previous chairman’s ill health. The selection panel is hopeful that the recruitment of 2 committee members can be concluded by the end of October so that the Chairman and members can begin to make plans for the inquiry to start.
Mrs. Oldham said “I am very pleased to have been nominated to chair this important inquiry and I am keen to ensure that the inquiry starts in early 2014. I am determined to run the inquiry in a way that will encourage all those who want to come forward to speak to us to do so. It is essential that the inquiry is able to establish exactly what happened in the care system in Jersey during the period covered by our terms of reference and I will ensure that everything possible is done to achieve that aim”.
The nominations of Mrs. Oldham and the 2 committee members will need to be approved by the States and the Chief Minister will be lodging the necessary proposition in due course so that the appointments can be considered by the Assembly in December.