As a new year starts we can expect some significant developments in the next few months in the various abuse related inquiries.
The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry – Northern Ireland – the final report was submitted to the Minister on 6 January and will be published on 20 January.
The Scottish Government’s Programme for Government 2016 / 2017 has been revealed on 6 September. Before June 2017, the Scottish Government intends to introduce the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament. When making the announcement of the legislative programme upon this, Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland said that the Bill “fulfils a recommendation from the Scottish Human Rights Commission.” She added “As the Human Rights Commission has pointed out, the three year limitation rule is not appropriate for child abuse” explaining that, “the reasons for victims not coming forward until later in life are entirely understandable.” She concluded by advising the Scottish Parliament that “This Bill will ensure that the justice system works better for victims of such terrible crimes.”
Written by Frank Hughes, Partner
As we reported on this blog on 28 July 2016, Lady Smith, a Scottish Judge since 2001 and, from 2011, a Scottish Appeal Court Judge, is the new Chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry. Unlike the English and Welsh Inquiry, the present remit of the Scottish Inquiry excludes non-State institutions. Hence, for instance, those alleging abuse in religious settings in the community, in contrast to State-provided care institutions, are not covered at present by the Scottish Inquiry.
Pressure is, though, building to extend the Scottish Inquiry’s scope. Alan Draper, spokesman for In Care Abuse Survivors (Incas) was reported, in the 31 August 2016 Herald newspaper, as saying that “we put forward (to the Deputy First Minister of Scotland, John Swinney) a powerful argument about extending (the scope of the Scottish Inquiry).” He adds, though, that he is “not hopeful”.
A bill proposed by the Scottish Government seeks to remove limitation in child abuse claims. We have previously commented on some of the issues which arise one of which is in connection with prescription.
A recent decision of the Court of Session has added to the complexities associated with what on the face of it seems a short and straightforward bill to change limitation in abuse claims in Scotland.
On 23 March Susan O’Brien QC, Chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry formally called for evidence. She began by saying that the priority was to listen to people who were abused when they were under 18 in residential or foster care. The terms of reference have been set by the Scottish Government and to counter criticism of the limits of the scope of the Inquiry she reinforced that they are doing what they have been asked to. The terms of reference say the Inquiry will provide an opportunity for public acknowledgement of the suffering of victims of abuse, and provide a forum for them to be heard. Evidence will be a matter of national public record. It is up to witnesses to decide whether they give evidence or not.