Fiona Woolf “cannot be seen to be impartial” as the chair of the Government’s historic child abuse inquiry, according to a lawyer who has launched a legal challenge on behalf of a victim.
Family lawyer David Burrows has lodged an application for judicial review of the entire inquiry set-up, saying it should be a judge-led statutory public inquiry and complaining of its “seriously limp” terms of reference.
And he said the under-pressure QC and Lord Mayor of London should recognise her unsuitability for the role because of her connections with Lord Brittan - the former home secretary who denies failing to act on a dossier of paedophilia allegations he received while in office in the 1980s.
“I think it is unfortunate that she can’t see that, in legal terms, she cannot be seen to be impartial and that’s what, in law, is the position,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One - but suggested she was the least of the problems with the inquiry.
“In many ways Mrs Woolf is a distraction,” he said.
“What the challenge is is first of all yes to the appropriateness of the panel that has been appointed - I think many people would like to see one chair and many people would say it should be a High Court or more senior family specialist judge.
“Secondly, the terms of reference as they have now come out are limp, seriously limp, and limited - they don’t cover the whole of the United Kingdom, only England and Wales.
“And thirdly, many people would say it must be a statutory inquiry under the 2005 Inquiries Act. At the moment it is a non-statutory discretionary inquiry.
“So Woolf is part of what this is all about but those three factors in fact are much more important, I think, to the survivors than is Mrs Woolf in many ways.”
Mrs Woolf came under mounting pressure to step down when it emerged that her list of meetings with Lord Brittan and his wife may be incomplete.
As senior Labour and Liberal Democrat figures voiced doubts about whether Mrs Woolf could have the confidence of victims, a photograph surfaced showing her chatting to Lady Brittan at a prize-giving last October.
Home Affairs Select Committee chairman Keith Vaz said he would be writing to raise the omission with the City lawyer, who insisted during an evidence session yesterday that she had “gone the extra distance” to produce an exhaustive list of contacts.
A letter she wrote to Home Secretary Theresa May stated that she had “no social contact with Lord and Lady Brittan since April 23 2013”.
Solicitor Alison Millar, who represents a number of abuse victims whose cases are likely to be raised in the inquiry, said the fact that Mrs Woolf had five dinner parties with Lord Brittan - who denies failing to act on a dossier of paedophilia allegations he received while in office in the 1980s - meant victims could not have faith in her.
Mrs Woolf was appointed last month to chair the panel inquiring into UK institutions’ handling of child sex abuse allegations, after the original nominee Lady Butler-Sloss stepped down because her late brother, Lord Havers, was attorney general during much of the period in question.
However, there has been criticism since it was revealed she has lived on the same London street as Lord Brittan - who is likely to be called to give evidence - for a decade. As well as inviting the Brittans to dinner at her house three times, she has dined at theirs twice, met Lady Brittan for coffee, sat on a prize-giving panel with her, and sponsored her £50 for a fun run.
Mrs May has offered her backing, and Downing Street has said David Cameron is “confident that Fiona Woolf and the panel will carry out their duties to the high standards of integrity required”.
Labour has urged Mrs Woolf and Mrs May to meet victims to discuss the situation
Former child protection manager Peter McKelvie said abuse survivors had lost faith in the independent inquiry.
He told BBC 2’s Newsnight: “There is just no trust in the whole process, from the appointment of Butler-Sloss up to the appointment of Fiona Woolf, because the one thing survivors wanted this time was a completely independent inquiry not led by anyone who they perceived to be a member of the establishment.”
He added: “I really don’t think they (survivors) will co-operate with this particular process at all.”