A former high court judge has been appointed to lead an independent inquiry into the alleged bullying and harassment of House of Commons staff, the parliamentary body organising the process has announced.
Dame Laura Cox, a QC who served as a judge from 2002 until she retired in 2016, will sit alone, said the House of Commons commission.
The body is in charge of the day-to-day running of parliament amd is headed by the Speaker, John Bercow, and members include, among others, the leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom, and her Labour shadow, Valerie Vaz.
Cox’s objectives will include establishing the nature and extent of bullying and harassment, examining how complaints have been handled, and how procedures can be improved. An investigation was announced by Leadsom in March.
Cox will invite staff and former staff to submit their experiences in person or in writing, all of which will be confidential.
A statement from the commission said: “It is not the purpose of the inquiry to reopen past complaints of bullying or harassment or to investigate new ones against particular individuals.” However, this would not mean people could not make formal complaints in the usual way.
The inquiry plans to present preliminary findings to Commons before the summer recess if possible – this could depend on the numbers who come forward – and a final report “as reasonably practicable thereafter”.
Leadsom announced the investigation after an urgent question from MPs prompted by a BBC Newsnight investigation into a series of allegations, including a claim that Bercow bullied his former private secretary, which he strongly denies.
Dame Janet Gaymer, the former civil service commissioner who is one of two external members of the House of Commons commission, said Cox’s appointment showed that staff members could be confident the issue was being treated seriously.
She said: “It is vitally important that this inquiry is wholly independent of any political or parliamentary influence so that everyone can be assured that it is conducted fairly and with the sole purpose of protecting those employed by the house”.