Chair of child abuse inquiry announced

Susan O’Brien QC

Susan O’Brien QC will chair the statutory national public Inquiry into historical abuse of children in care, the Education Secretary, Angela Constance has announced.

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, Ms Constance confirmed that in addition to children formally placed “in care” in institutions, the inquiry will have an extended remit.

Its scope will also include allegations of abuse in foster care, in long-term hospital care and in boarding schools.

Ms Constance also announced that the Scottish government intends to lift the three-year time bar on civil actions, including compensation claims for damages in cases of historical abuse that took place after 1964 – the cut-off under the Prescription and Limitation (Scotland) Act 1984.

A consultation will be launched in the summer to examine how this can best be done.

In addition, funding of £14.5 million for support services was announced to the Parliament.

Ms Constance said: “The Inquiry will examine any instance where a child was abused ‘in care’, at institutions including residential care provided by faith based organisations; children’s homes and secure care. The scope will also include those placed in foster care.

“For the purposes of the Inquiry the term ’in care‘ will carry a broader interpretation beyond those formally placed in care by the state.

“It will include allegations of abuse affecting boarded out children; child migrant schemes; and school hostels and health care establishments providing long term care for children.

“Furthermore, I have also decided that independent boarding schools must be included.

“While parents were responsible for the residential placement of children in these institutions, I am of the view the state also had a responsibility to ensure a standard of care.

“I am pleased to announce that Susan O’Brien QC will chair the Inquiry. Ms O’Brien is an experienced advocate with a wealth of experience of injury cases, including psychiatric injury cases.

“She chaired the Caleb Ness Inquiry in Edinburgh in 2003 And her knowledge and expertise in human rights will also be fundamental in leading this Inquiry. I am grateful to her for agreeing to take on this significant task.”

Chair of the inquiry, Susan O’Brien QC said: “I am honoured by the decision of the cabinet secretary to appoint me to chair the Historical Child Abuse Inquiry.

“I am aware that there are many victims of abuse who have waited a long time to see this happen, and that some are elderly and hope to see progress soon.

“I undertake to start work on July 1st, to establish the inquiry by October 1st and to work my way steadily through the evidence, assisted by a panel and by expert assessors.

“Details of hearing dates will be made public, and an Inquiry website will keep interested parties informed of our progress. Others will be able to phone and write, if they would like to keep in touch with what is happening.

“I appreciate that no one can provide full justice for any victim of abuse in childhood, but the Scottish government is anxious to enable victims to tell us what happened to them and the impact it had on their lives.

“The inquiry panel will try to identify any lessons from past failures which will help to keep our children safe in the future.”

The panel will be required to take what the government described as a “human rights-based approach” and will be inquisitorial rather than adversarial so as to allow people with little experience of legal proceedings to engage with it.

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