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MPs call on child abuse inquiry to make new lead counsel priority after Emmerson exit

The Home Affairs Select Committee has pressed the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) to make finding a new lead counsel its ‘priority’.

The call comes two months after the sudden resignation of Matrix Chambers’ leading human rights lawyer Ben Emmerson QC.

In a report released last week the select committee, led by Labour’s Yvette Cooper MP (pictured), highlighted concerns about the duty of care at inquiry to its staff and questioned Fieldfisher partner Martin Smith on the inquiry’s level of transparency.

Lead counsel Emmerson resigned in September after serious allegations against him were reported by the BBC. The IICSA denies any complaint had been made against Emmerson.

The MPs suggested the inquiry should appoint an external counsel to examine the allegations and the circumstances of Emmerson’s resignation.

One former counsel to the inquiry, Hugh Davies QC of Three Raymond Buildings, questioned the transparency of the inquiry in a letter to the committee.

Davies said: ‘There is an impression that rather than investigating the disclosures … IICSA has reached a de facto compromise agreement with the subject of the disclosures and ended the investigation’.

In another letter to the committee, Fieldfisher partner and solicitor to the IICSA Martin Smith said the legal team would not waive their right to confidentiality relating to the inquiry’s processes. Smith said the team ‘should not and cannot be compelled by the committee to breach their legal obligations’.

Cooper said: ‘The response from the current Inquiry team to allegations of bullying or sexual assault within the Inquiry itself has been wholly inadequate.’

The MP added: ‘The Inquiry needs to get things back on track. The appointment of a new legal counsel is a priority.’

One City partner close to the inquiry told Legal Business: ‘The top tier of the counsel team have all gone now. Clearly there were problems within the counsel team.’

Cooper had previously branded the actions of the former chair of the inquiry, retired New Zealand judge Lowell Goddard, as ‘disgraceful’ after she refused to return to the UK to submit evidence to the select committee.