Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry: an update

On 6 January 2021, Lady Smith, chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI), reluctantly postponed hearings to examine the abuse of children in boarding schools because of new COVID-19 restrictions. These “phase 6” hearings, concerning seven boarding schools, had been scheduled to start in the second half of January 2021. This phase of evidence will be rescheduled “as soon as possible.”

To date, SCAI has published three sets of case study findings on evidence heard between November 2017 and February 2019 in phases 2 and 3 but has not yet made any recommendations.

SCAI has confirmed that case study findings on evidence heard in 2019 during phase 4 on certain male religious orders are complete and will be published shortly. SCAI has also advised that analysis of evidence and drafting of case study findings on evidence heard in 2019 as part of phase 4 on a further male religious order and evidence heard in 2019 and in 2020 on child migration (phase 5) is “well underway”.

In the context of resumed phase 1 consideration, on 4 December 2020 SCAI heard closing submissions on evidence relating to the response of successive Scottish Governments to issues arising from the non-recent abuse of children in institutional care and the reasons why calls for a public inquiry throughout the period between August 2002 and December 2014 were turned down by Scottish Governments.

Although not yet formalised as an intended “phase” of evidence, it is considered likely that SCAI will consider foster care during a seventh evidential phase either later in 2021 or in 2022, depending on how Scotland moves through and out of the current pandemic. SCAI also previously confirmed ongoing investigation of further institutions run by a range of care providers.

When established in October 2015, SCAI was to report to Scottish Ministers by October 2019. This deadline was extended before the current pandemic to “as soon as reasonably practicable” after then. SCAI’s overall aim is to raise public awareness of the abuse of children (under 18) in care for the period “within living memory” of any person who suffered such abuse to no later than 17 December 2014.

SCAI is due to release its latest total running cost on or around 15 January 2021. Cost to 30 September 2020 was £38.2m.

Frank Hughes, Partner and Fiona McEwan, Associate and

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