Former IICSA chair to oversee creation of new independent safeguarding structure for CofE

Professor Alexis Jay.

The former chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has agreed to develop proposals for a fully independent structure to provide scrutiny of safeguarding in the Church of England. 

The appointment of Professor Alexis Jay follows fierce criticism of the Church leadership's handling of safeguarding and the controversial disbanding of the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB). 

There was outcry from survivors and safeguarding campaigners when the Archbishops' Council announced last month that it was terminating the contracts of ISB Chair Meg Munn and board members Jasvinder Sanghera and Steve Reeves. 

All three have been scathing in their criticism of the CofE leadership, with Munn accusing the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, of "undermining" her work when she resigned from her other role as Independent Chair of the National Safeguarding Panel earlier this month. 

In comments to this month's General Synod in York, Reeves said, "It is very clear to me that when the Church, or the Archbishop's Council talks about independence they do not mean independence in the way that you and I and the average person on the street mean independence. They mean semi-detached. When they say trust ... what they mean is obedience. When they talk about communication ... they mean loyalty."

Addressing the debacle, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York expressed "regret" over recent events.

"The remit of the interim Chair of the ISB and the other members was always to develop proposals to appoint a permanent independent Chair and additional board members. That work was always intended to move forward at pace towards the independent scrutiny that the Church urgently needs," they said.

Welcoming the appointment of Professor Jay, the Archbishops said that future safeguarding oversight would be fully independent.

"We are very pleased that Professor Jay has agreed to take on this vital role to ensure we move quickly towards objective, independent, credible and resilient oversight of safeguarding in the Church of England," they said.

"This work will be entirely in their hands and fully external and independent; we will welcome the scrutiny and challenge that rightly comes with that.

"As Archbishops we pledged to work as quickly as we can to get independent oversight of safeguarding back on track. We continue to reflect on recent events and this development is an important part of our safeguarding work with victims and survivors, children and vulnerable adults, as we make the Church a safer place for all.

"This proposal was discussed in depth at this week's Archbishops' Council and there was collective agreement about this being an important next step in the work on independent scrutiny.

"We have asked Professor Jay to give us independent and rigorous recommendations for achieving this urgent and vital outcome."

Professor Jay will be supported by the former secretary to IICSA, John O'Brien.

Together they have been tasked with producing a report by the end of the year with recommendations for the formation of an independent safeguarding scrutiny body for the Church of England. 

The recommendations will be considered by the Archbishops' Council, House of Bishops and General Synod before steps are taken to implement the body.