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Inquiry into Historical Abuse of Children in Care

Chair and remit unveiled alongside new support and steps on civil action barriers.

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

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, the Education Secretary 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.

The Cabinet Secretary 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.

And, in a move designed to ensure survivors have access to the services they need now, new funding of £14.5 million for support services was announced to Parliament. 

Ms Constance said yesterday:

“Reaching a decision on the exact scope of the Inquiry has been challenging, given the wide range of views, even among survivors. The remit cannot be so wide that survivors lose hope of the Inquiry ever reaching clear, specific conclusions. I am mindful of the urgency of this last issue, given the age and health of some of the leading campaigners.

“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.”

The Cabinet Secretary added yesterday:

“I am also announcing today that we will set up a dedicated support fund for survivors of abuse who were placed in care by the state. This will enable survivors to identify their own personal goals and access the right support to achieve them. Work on this will begin immediately with £13.5 million allocated over the next five years to develop a dedicated in care support service. An additional £1 million will also enhance the support available to all who were abused as children, regardless of the setting, through the SurvivorScotland development fund.”

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 a Human Rights-based approach and to be inquisitorial rather than adversarial to allow people with little experience of legal proceedings to engage with it.

Notes To Editors

Susan O’Brien has been in practice as a QC since 1998, and was a solicitor for 6 years before she was called to the Bar in 1987. She has represented abuse victims and took a test case on time bar in historic claims to the House of Lords in 2008. She has been an Employment Judge for 15 years, and she is the only Scottish member of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. She is a member of the Pensions Appeal Tribunal, which hears appeals from veterans, and she was a part-time Sheriff for 5 years. She was the legal Chair of a panel of three which investigated the death of a baby, and which produced the Caleb Ness Report in 2003. This was widely praised. It resulted in the reorganisation of Edinburgh Social Work department and reviews of child protection practices by other agencies. In the 1980s she was on a steering committee which set up the Scottish Child Law Centre in Glasgow, and in the 1990s she served on the Board of Lothian Family Mediation. She is currently a Governor of Heriot-Watt University. She is married and has two daughters.

The full text of the Inquiry Terms of Reference and information on the next steps:

Full text of the statement is available here:


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