Lady Smith, the Chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, spoke publicly, for the first time, today on the work of the Inquiry. She did so, sitting alongside Inquiry Panel Member Glenn Houston, at the Inquiry’s Preliminary Hearing, which took place today between 11am and 12.15pm in Court 9 of the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
From the outset, Lady Smith was at pains to emphasise the independence of the Inquiry’s work, noting that it “operates independently of central government, independently of local government, independently of the police, independently of the prosecution services and independently of any other organisation whether based here in Scotland or elsewhere”. Lady Smith also emphasised her own independence, noting that she will perform her duties “independently, fairly and without bias”. She reminded all those who worked for the Inquiry that they “are answerable not to government but to me, as Chair of the Inquiry”.
Lady Smith explained that the Inquiry is investigating the nature and extent of abuse of children whilst in care in Scotland during the period from within living memory to 17 December 2014. The types of institutions being investigated include children’s homes, secure care units such as List D Schools or Borstals, Young Offender’s Institutions, Boarding Schools, those healthcare establishments which provided long term care, and foster homes. She indicated that there are around 100 institutions where abuse is said to have taken place. Over 60 of those are presently being investigated by the Inquiry.
Lady Smith made clear that the Inquiry was “determined to get to the bottom of any systemic failures that occurred” and to “create a national and public record and commentary on the abuse of children in care in Scotland” as “fully and accurately as we can”. She confirmed that it was not in her gift to change the terms of the Inquiry’s remit which, amongst other things, confer “no power to award monetary compensation”. Nonetheless, she added that “the terms of the remit do not prevent us from looking broadly at the matter of redress for those who have suffered abuse in care. For example, we can and we will consider and examine what part formal redress schemes have played in the United Kingdom and elsewhere when responding to the discovery of abuse, and whether a redress scheme could play a part in Scotland in the future”.
Five organisations, or bodies, have, to date, been granted Core Participant status by the Inquiry. They were represented at today’s hearing. Further applications for such status would be welcomed by the Inquiry without delay. To be eligible, an organisation (or individual or group of individuals) would have to satisfy Lady Smith that: they have a direct and significant role in the matters being looked at or have a significant interest in an important aspect of the Inquiry; or may be subject to such significant criticism during the Inquiry or in its reports(s) that it is desirable that they be included as Core Participants.
By mid-July 2016, the Inquiry had taken statements in private from around 170 survivors of abuse. Lady Smith confirmed today that, since then, “many more” statements have been taken but she will not be giving a “running commentary on numbers”. She stressed, though, that the Inquiry wants to “hear from every single person who comes within our remit and wants to tell us about having been abused” and that the Inquiry also wants to hear “from anyone who, even if not themselves a child in care within our remit, has evidence to give about what they knew was happening to children who were in care”. Glenn Houston, an Inquiry Panel Member, gave details of a forthcoming publicity campaign in that regard, which will include adverts on bus shelters and regional radio broadcasts.
No evidence was heard at today’s hearing nor any witnesses called. Future public hearings of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry will be divided up into separate phases. Interim reports and case studies may be published before the final report, which is to be given to Scottish Ministers by October 2019. Expert research has already been commissioned and certain expert reports already produced. Further expert reports will also be commissioned.
The first phase of public hearings will start on 31 May 2017. We will write, in a further blog, on the likely work for that Phase 1.