In a YouTube video released on 26 March 2020, Lady Smith, chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI), emphasised that the ‘vital work of SCAI continues’ with all staff working remotely with access to ‘excellent IT and infrastructure’. SCAI’s phone lines are presently operating Monday to Friday 10am-4pm to ‘support applicants and witnesses’. Investigative and preparatory work for announced case studies continues. Work also continues in reviewing and analysing evidence heard during previous case study hearings. Further case study findings will be published ‘as soon as possible’. To date, SCAI has published three sets of findings but has not yet made any recommendations.
On 16 March 2020, SCAI however also announced that the Phase 5 hearings on child migration programmes due to resume on 24 March were postponed due to COVID-19. Understandably at this time, no detail has yet been released on when SCAI plans to resume hearings. There must be questions whether this postponement, and the ongoing COVID-19 crisis itself, may have a knock-on effect on the original plan of when to return to Phase 1 relating to the background to and context within which SCAI was established with particular focus on Scottish Government’s knowledge of and response to allegations of abuse of children in care. Likewise, there must be questions whether Phase 6 case studies on seven boarding schools previously planned for summer 2020 might be delayed.
SCAI’s overall aim is to raise awareness of the abuse of children in care (under 18) for the period ‘within living memory’ to no later than 17 December 2014. SCAI’s work was originally intended to last four years, to October 2019. Before the current COVID-19 crisis, Scottish Ministers extended that deadline simply to ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’. The current COVID-19 crisis may well mean that this is even later than originally envisaged when the timetable was extended. On 17 April 2020, SCAI released details of its expenditure to the end of March 2020. In the three month period January to March, cost was £2.74m. Total cost of SCAI from its inception in October 2015 to end March 2020 was £32.8m.
Fiona McEwan, Associate and Frank Hughes, Partner
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