Thinking Anglicans

Independent Barrister to conduct a Review of ISB phase 1

press release 11 September 2023
Leading public law barrister to head review into Independent Safeguarding Board

A leading public law barrister is to head the independent review into the first phase of the Church of England’s Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB), it was announced today.

The Archbishops’ Council has instructed Sarah Wilkinson, a barrister from Blackstone Chambers, to undertake a review of the ISB Phase 1. She is an experienced public law practitioner who has represented the Government both as sole and junior counsel in a wide range of high-profile judicial review cases.

The Archbishops’ Council has asked Ms Wilkinson to establish a clear account of the events from the conception, design and establishment of the ISB until the announcement of the termination of contracts of members, establish and identify the reasons for the action to terminate, and identify lessons to be learned based on the findings.

She will complete her review by the end of November and the Council will aim to publish this report as soon as possible following the end of November. This review will also inform the work of Professor Alexis Jay on the future of safeguarding.

The review was announced at the General Synod in July by the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, and follows the statement issued by the Council on the future of the ISB.

Finding support
If you or anyone you are in contact with wish to talk to someone independently please call the Safe Spaces helpline on 0300 303 1056 or visit www.safespacesenglandandwales.org.uk

Alternatively, you may wish to contact the diocesan safeguarding team in your area or the National Safeguarding Team – email safeguarding@churchofengland.org

There are also a range of other support services available.

Link to Blackstone Chambers: Sarah Wilkinson

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Susannah Clark
Reply to  Simon Sarmiento
7 months ago

Yes, and given that the Reviewer might get a very filtered version of events from the Archbishops’ Council, I doubt there is a more thorough detail of events and concerns than the eleven ‘Thinking Anglicans’ articles on the ISB in the crisis weeks, and the analysis that followed below the line. I hope the Reviewers are informed of this independent resource, as well as receiving the essential accounts and views of survivors, and forensic details from sharp-minded people like Martin Sewell (among others). One other question: how many survivors were involved in drafting the terms of reference, and selection of… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Susannah Clark
7 months ago

Susannah, I think it’s pretty clear that the Archbishops’ Council appointed Sarah Wilkinson and Rhys Jones and set the terms of reference which are very specific (you will have noticed that it excludes review of the initial data breach). This is a fresh investigation and the burden of proof to be followed is to be the civil one: on the balance of probabilities. It’s now up to people to respond to the invitation to contribute evidence to the reviewers. Simon Sarmiento has emphasised the link for them to do so. Blackstone Chambers and their members have the highest professional reputation… Read more »

Christian Hernandez
Christian Hernandez
Reply to  Susannah Clark
7 months ago

None of us survivors were consulted in anyway. We only found out what was happening via social media.

Kate Keates
Kate Keates
Reply to  Susannah Clark
7 months ago

(Going forwards I am going to comment as Kate Keates to avoid any confusion. I am the lady who has been here as Kate for several years.) Unfortunately the review sidesteps what for me is the most important question. Why couldn’t Steve and Jasvinder see out their contracts, offer support to survivors and continue with the planned reviews *alongside* a third appointment instead of Meg Munn to develop plans for a fully independent body? The Archbishops’Council seems to have presented it as an either/or but that’s a false position. As Susannah has said, it comes down to the Terms of… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Kate Keates
7 months ago

One of my first thoughts was that these reviewers will have access to the contracts (all of the discussion to which Susannah refers was by people totally in the dark on that subject as, very simply, we were never told anything). I tried to make the point, better expressed by God ‘elp us all’ below, that on this occasion the Church has gone to the ‘Rolls Royce’ of lawyers, but I suppose it’s understandable that from past experience some TA readers have not felt reassured. It’s fairly obvious, at least to me, that the questions you pose about Jasvinder and… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
7 months ago

They may be the Rolls Royce of lawyers, but if the terms of reference have been set up to exclude anything which would embarrass the Archbishops’ Council (as appears to be the case), the review will be pretty much worthless.

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Janet Fife
7 months ago

In recent decades Blackstone Chambers has become a sort of colony of All Souls on the Embankment, thanks largely to David Pannick and the late Ian Brownlie. Dr Wilkinson had two stints as a fellow, during which time she demonstrated that she was evolving into a serious scholar of the front rank (on British foreign policy during the inter-war period – admittedly a relatively crowded field). Unfortunately, more mundane economic considerations have evidently intruded and, like her slightly younger colleague in that set, George Molyneaux (who looked likely to become an heir to his tutor, Patrick Wormald, and to James… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Froghole
7 months ago

I thought at first you meant All Souls Langham Place, or some other church of that dedication. I presume you mean an All Souls College, since you say Dr Wilkinson was a Fellow (or, as one of my recent Twitter correspondents would probably put it, a Fellowess).

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Janet Fife
7 months ago

From the outset I made the point that the Archbishops’ Council had set the TOR, and that these are limited.

However, in answer to your point (and others below), the requirement of TOR (b) “to use best efforts to establish and identify on the balance of probabilities the reasons for the action to terminate the contracts of the ISB members” can hardly be dodged by the AC having itself set the requirement. The AC will have to address this.

Martin Sewell
Martin Sewell
Reply to  Susannah Clark
7 months ago

Susannah, thank you for the compliment – but you don’t think I’m smart enough to figure all this out for myself do you? I have a good network which supports me. That includes this site. I encourage you to write to Sara Wilkinson if you have material for her to consider. Although I believe good practice would have involved a collegiate approach to compiling the terms of reference, early contact with the review has reassured me that there will be a comprehensive and open minded assessment of the problems. For this to happen the narrative of Archbishops Council needs to… Read more »

RogerB
Reply to  Simon Sarmiento
7 months ago

Am I living in a parallel universe? “The Archbishops’ Council has asked Ms Wilkinson to …. establish and identify the reasons for the action to terminate”, Surely the ABC decided to terminate the contracts?

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  RogerB
7 months ago

Gosh! This question has already been addressed so many times on this thread! The issue is not what they decided, but whether it was lawful!

God 'elp us all
God 'elp us all
7 months ago

I note from: https://www.blackstonechambers.com/barristers/sarah-wilkinson/ her extensive experience working with/for ‘the authorities’: As a Panel member from 2008 to 2020, she regularly advised government departments She has recently acted for the Home Office, Departments of Education, Health, Justice and DEFRA …she has represented Ofsted and has advised the Office for Students, the Education and Skills Funding Agency and the NAHT … She has advised and represented a wide range of regulatory bodies She spent much of 2017-9 acting for the Foreign Office … involved an extremely complicated disclosure exercise involving public interest immunity applications and cross-Whitehall liaison I am sure her independence will… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  God 'elp us all
7 months ago

She has worked with/for the authorities extensively. Which indicated she may be very competent, but it may also indicate a certain “safe” mindset.

Has she taken on any work where she has been required to challenge the authorities?

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Simon Dawson
7 months ago

Plenty of experience, widespread and at top level. See link below and scroll down through various sections:

https://www.blackstonechambers.com/barristers/sarah-wilkinson/

Simon Bravery
Simon Bravery
Reply to  God 'elp us all
7 months ago

Good barristers are capable of acting impartially. The fact that she has been instructed by various state bodies does not limit her ability to assess the evidence dispassionately and objectively. She has also gained a thorough knowledge of the workings of government. She has acted for the NAHT( the Headteachers’ trade union).

Outside of the law her background as an academic historian ( and a former fellow of All Souls) and her taking time out to qualify as a teacher gives her a very wide perspective.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Simon Bravery
7 months ago

I have linked a detailed CV. Her legal experience is vastly wider than readers here seem to be assuming. Nor do you become a member of Blackstone Chambers without exceptional ability.

All barristers act impartially in the best interests of their client. It is built into their professional standards, training and their duty to the court.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
7 months ago

Yes. And presumably the client in this case is the Archbishops’ Council, rather than survivors or Jasvinder and Steve?

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Janet Fife
7 months ago

Janet, I seem to be knocking my head against a brick wall! In the interests of the client is what you would expect of a doctor/ patient or priest confessor/ penitent relationship. It doesn’t imply partiality or ‘bending rules’ in a client’s favour. I repeat my earlier regret that I see so much cynicism on TA which is not based on a proper understanding of what is being discussed.

I realise that the clergy equally suffer a lot of ignorant flak on TA. We should all really try to do better.

Rowland

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
7 months ago

I didn’t in any way suggest, or intend to suggest, that the reviewer was likely to bend any rules. All I said was that her client is Archbishops’ Council.

This is why so many of us are calling for a system, completely independent of the Church, which can handle these matters. .As it is, reviews and inquiries are nearly always loaded in the Church’s favour. I think this is a realistic view, not an ignorant one. Certainly it is shared by some very well-informed people.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Janet Fife
7 months ago

Of course I never implied that you thought or were suggesting that the reviewer would bend rules. I was giving a definition of professional integrity, extending it to your own profession.

A moment’s thought should have made it obvious that Jasvinder and Steve could not be clients in a process initiated by the AC. You are directing arguments at me which do not even logically arise from what I have said. Your complaint is with the AC, not with me!

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
7 months ago

I’m not sure you have understood me. Of course it was obvious that Jasvinder and Steve – or survivors – could not be clients in a process initiated by the AC. That is why I’m pointing out that it ought to be a body completely independent of the Church which initiates these reviews and inquiries. If the Church initiates them, and particularly if it does not consult other interested parties as to the terms of reference, it has its thumb on the scales. This is not in any way a criticism of the legal profession, in which I have considerable… Read more »

David Hawkins
David Hawkins
7 months ago

I am not an insider and I am not ordained but elsewhere in Thinking Anglicans there was a discussion about the shortage of clergy for rural parishes. And in the meantime the Archbishops’ Council appear to be throwing money around as if it is going out of fashion and one thing we can be absolutely certain about, there will.be no personal consequences for any member of the Archbishops’ council who got us into this mess. As a victim of emotional abuse from ann Anglican priest myself it’s really not that complicated. It’s in the Gospels. We are told to care… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  David Hawkins
7 months ago

No one has ever questioned the independence of Lord Carlile in his report in the Bishop Bell case. Indeed, he was unsparing (rightly) in revealing in graphic detail a catalogue of disastrous ineptitude on the part of the C of E’s handling and ‘investigation’. So let’s keep an open mind in the present case.

Malcolm Dixon
Malcolm Dixon
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
7 months ago

I do not doubt in any way the independence of Lord Carlile or Sarah Wilkinson but the question for me is ‘did anyone ever suffer any consequences, or even a mild rebuke, for the ‘disastrous ineptitude’ which you mention?’ I think not, although the ABC was forced to give a very reluctant and half-hearted apology for his part in savaging the reputation of +George Bell. Although it is said that this review will ‘inform’ Professor Jay’s work on the future of safeguarding, it is coming down the track two months later and seems more likely to hold it up. I… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  David Hawkins
7 months ago

David, my experience echoes yours, and I gave up expecting honesty and humanity from the Church of England a couple of years back. I have no confidence in the outcome of this review because the AC have set it up to suit themselves. They learned the lessons of Carlile, Elliott et al and now curtail their reviewers’ freedom to throw light into the shady corners. ‘Men were lovers of darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.’

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
7 months ago

I can’t really add any more. It’s very disheartening that careful and reasoned comments on TA so often result in cynical, and dare I say, unreasoned responses. Yes, the TOR are limited but they don’t preclude, in fact they require, explanations for the termination of the ISB members’ contracts. From day one it was unclear whether the terminations were lawful. Was there not a dispute resolution current at the time of what, in other circumstances, would have amounted to immediate dismissal? These are among the crucial questions which I expect this review to answer.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
7 months ago

Rowland, I (and probably others here) do take your comments seriously and keep them in mind. But we are cynical because long experience of the C of E has taught us to be so. I can’t think of any review, however stellar and honest the reviewer, which has resulted in disciplinary action against a church dignitary or official, or any improvement in the way safeguarding cases are handled. The only two exceptions were those which led to George Carey and John Sentamu losing their PTO – and they are both retired and no longer have safeguarding responsibilities. When someone still… Read more »

Malcolm Dixon
Malcolm Dixon
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
7 months ago

Thank you, Rowland, for your detailed, expert and reasoned comments on TA, which are so helpful to those of us trying to follow these matters but lacking your expertise. I am very sorry if my comments and others have so disheartened you, but thank you for your further explanations and reassurances as to the likely ability of this review to answer the crucial questions. I hope that you are right but, as you suggest in an earlier post, it is my disappointing experience of the outcome of other reviews and inquiries that has made me cynical. When the IICSA inquiry… Read more »

T Pott
T Pott
7 months ago

This barrister is asked to establish on the balance of probabilities what the reasons for the termination of contracts were. I suppose a barrister is skilled in arguing that the law should be interpreted one way rather than another. It seems to me a psychiatrist might be more use in identiifying the reasons the AC behaved as they did. How is a barrister particularly qualified to judge, on the balance of probabilities or otherwise, why a group of people behaved in the way that they did?

Susanna ( no ‘h’)
Susanna ( no ‘h’)
Reply to  T Pott
7 months ago

Being a simple soul, I wonder what the purpose of this review is- what will it add to Professor Jay’s work and if it is vital, and was ‘promised’ in July , why have so many weeks been let go by and why is it to be done at such breakneck speed? I also wonder how it will help victims and survivors? I’m sure if any ‘leading public law barrister’ is capable of producing an impartial examination of the issues under the conditions set out by the AC Sarah Wilkinson will do her utmost- though whether having been a fellow… Read more »

WYH
WYH
Reply to  Susanna ( no ‘h’)
7 months ago

Susanna (no “h”), perhaps this is about survival…. “Survival of the AC”. No recent resignations there, surprisingly…….Fear there is team blindness. Victims/survivors require fair justice.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  T Pott
7 months ago

I think this really has to be my final comment! In forty years I sat and listened to literally hundreds of judgments and findings of fact by HM Judges applying the civil standard of proof ‘on the balance of probabilities’. This is a less stringent test than the criminal standard ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. The ranks of the judiciary are made up of senior barristers and solicitors ‘promoted’ to the bench. It’s within the everyday skills of such lawyers to evaluate and determine facts from the evidence. When appropriate, medical expert witnesses (including psychiatric specialists) will assist the court in reaching… Read more »

T Pott
T Pott
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
7 months ago

This particular barrister has not been promoted to the bench, and is not a court; and the actual facts are clear. The AC is guilty of terminating the contracts. Her job is trying to work out the reasons they acted as they did. If the AC were regarded as trustworthy they could simply tell us the reasons. The barrister is not asked to say whether they were right or wrong reasons, or good or bad reasons, simply what the reasons were. She has not been asked to give any opinion on the legality or appropriateness of any reasons. If she… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  T Pott
7 months ago

My final, final response. You and the other recent commenters have not read, or have misunderstood, my earlier contributions. Whether there have been breaches of contract will primarily be matters of fact and law, not what may or may or not have been in the minds of individual members of the AC. I also added the strongest hint: what was the situation in the ISB members’ grievance procedure when they were, in effect, summarily dismissed? Those are the primary questions to be answered. Your views about the person appointed as reviewer are lamentably inappropriate and disrespectful. You should read the… Read more »

T Pott
T Pott
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
7 months ago

The terms of reference clearly state the objective to ascertain the reasons the contracts were terminated. Whether or not they may have been breahes of contract is not what is being asked. What you refer to as the primary questions to be answered, are quite simply not the questions which have been asked.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  T Pott
7 months ago

I really cannot help you any further. The ‘reasons’ will be the facts which led to the termination. They may amount to breach(es) of contract. The facts are what have to be ascertained. We are not privy to the contract terms. The Reviewer will be. Additionally, you should consider TOR (a): ”to use best efforts to establish a clear account of the events from the conception, design and implementation of the ISB, until the announcement of the termination of contracts”. Again factual. I don’t propose to argue this any further. I have already lost count of the number of hours… Read more »

K. Anonymous
K. Anonymous
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
7 months ago

Rowland, I always thought that ‘on the balance of probabilities’ is a policy used only by the Church of England for the Safeguarding Core Groups to find someone guilty without having an investigation. I should be grateful if you would confirm that I am incorrect in this view. Many thanks.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  K. Anonymous
7 months ago

Sorry for the delay in replying, I have only just seen your question. The balance of probabilities is the test applied as the burden of proof in civil (non-criminal) cases in the courts of England and Wales (and in other jurisdictions) as distinct from the stricter standard ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ applied in criminal cases. It’s true that in its instructions to independent experts, such as Lord Carlile and Keith Makin (also as in the present case), the C of E’s invariable instruction is that they are to apply the less strict civil test. So, no it does not ‘belong’ to… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
7 months ago

I think I should have added that when an individual is instructed to carry out a review, whether by the C of E or any other context, the balance of probabilities has to be the test. The criminal standard, beyond all reasonable doubt, can only be applied where the reviewer has the power to compel witnesses and the production of documents. That is the situation in the recently announced public inquiry in the Letby case. So I hope it is clear that in this present review the balance of probabilities is the only test, nothing sinister, and nothing particular to… Read more »

K. Anonymous
K. Anonymous
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
7 months ago

Thank you Rowland for that very clear explanation.

David Hawkins
David Hawkins
7 months ago

We should be very careful with the word “independent”. It sounds reassuring but actually it isn’t because “independence” is no guarantee of an in-depth insight into the problem in hand. Is a barrister the best person to conduct and investigation of this kind ? Is Sarah Wilkinson a Christian? Her personal faith or lack of it is surely going to influence her understanding of the problem. Why was Sarah Wilkinson chosen and by whom ? Why is she working alone and not leading a panel of experts ? I suspect that the appointment of a barrister will result in a… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  David Hawkins
7 months ago

Only the Archbishops’ Council can answer your basic questions. I was also somewhat surprised when the Review was announced, and by its terms of reference. But it is a legal issue which people here seem unable to grasp, and I see no reason whatsoever to question the independence, and hence integrity, of the Reviewer as a lawyer – of some distinction, as it happens. These comments about her are wide of the mark and border on being offensive.

Francis James
Francis James
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
7 months ago

I thought that you had made your ‘final, final’ response.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Francis James
7 months ago

Is this really the best you can say in what has turned out to be a ‘vigorous’ discussion which has proved difficult, actually so far impossible, to conclude – and ‘contributions’ directed to me are still coming in?

Susanna ( no ‘h’)
Susanna ( no ‘h’)
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
7 months ago

Rowland I don’t think the questions being asked by contributors are a reflection on the personal integrity of the chosen barrister. David Hawkins makes a fair point that there is a very different emphasis in the trainings for different disciplines, and those of us trained in social work, counselling , psychotherapy and so on have to look long and hard at what may influence or bias our assessments. I think the concern is why the AC has chosen a highly academic ‘Rolls Royce’ barrister to carry out a very short and highly prescribed review of something they all endorsed- as… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Susanna ( no ‘h’)
7 months ago

I have tried to spell it out numerous times on this thread! Was the termination (in other contexts it would be constructive dismissal) lawful? My understanding is that it was summary and at a time when a dispute resolution raised by Jasvinder and Steve was pending. I can’t speculate on the AC’s reasons other than the Archbishop of York’s promise that there would be a review. The Review has to answer these questions and the AC may yet be hoist on their own petard. I have already said that Jasvinder and Steve will (or should be) principal participants, and one… Read more »

Susanna ( no ‘h’)
Susanna ( no ‘h’)
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
7 months ago

Rowland I’m sorry as you think it is obvious but it is really hard to see how part b of the TOR ‘establishing reasons’ for the dismissals give the reviewer the chance to comment upon their legality in relation to employment law? There is absolutely no mention of weighing the appropriateness of the reasons And how does a ‘legal and quasi- judicial enquiry’ of this kind relate to any process under employment law which Jasvinder and Steve may be instigating? Because it would be difficult for them to participate in the review if this is a conflict of interest for… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Susanna ( no ‘h’)
7 months ago

Please see my reply to T Pott, above. In this discussion TOR (a) has largely been overlooked – for convenience I repeat it here: “to use best efforts to establish a clear account of the events from the conception, design and implementation of the ISB, until the announcement of the termination of contracts”. That is a quasi-judicial role. Jasvinder, Steve and, indeed, Meg Munn are central to meeting this requirement. I cannot speculate how it will be achieved. As far as I am aware, there is no involvement of employment law as you use that term (i.e., potentially involving the… Read more »

Kate Keates
Kate Keates
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
7 months ago

I agree. The TOR could have been better; the process by which the reviewer was selected should have involved survivors and the communication by the Archbishops’ Council needed to be very, very much better. It’s clear that the Archbishops’ Council hasn’t carried opinion with it on this. That it has been left to people like you to try to explain that the reviewer will be objective and independent shows how badly the Archbishops’ Council has failed. If this was an exercise to rebuild trust, on a reading of TA comments, it is failing. For me this isn’t so much about… Read more »

David Lamming
David Lamming
6 months ago

For those TA commenters seeking to criticise the appointment of Sarah Wilkinson to conduct this review, including the fact that the appointment was made by the Archbishops’ Council, it is worth recalling the terms of Gavin Drake’s ‘following motion’, the ‘timing out’ of which on Monday 10 July under Synod’s standing orders (some would say by abusing standing orders) led to his resignation: This Synod… “4. is dismayed by the recent decision of the Archbishops’ Council to disband the Independent Safeguarding Board and terminate the contracts of its members; 5. note that a Serious Incident Report has been made to… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  David Lamming
6 months ago

All of which, David, is essentially what I have said on this thread in the face of almost constant contradiction (sufficient to make me seriously consider whether I would ‘stay’ with TA), with the sole exception of the contractual terms of which I, and clearly everyone else who commented so dogmatically, was in ignorance. That I had to defend the appointment of a lawyer to a quasi-judicial review was frankly astonishing and made apparent to me how little is some people’s understanding of a lawyer’s training and forensic as well as legal abilities. I suspect that none of the critics… Read more »

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