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28/05/15 13:27

Education Secretary statement on Historic Child Abuse Inquiry

On becoming the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, I gave a commitment to establish an independent Inquiry into historical abuse of children in institutional care, with full statutory powers to compel witnesses and demand evidence.

On 17 December 2014, I announced to this Parliament that we would consult with survivors and others, on the Inquiry’s remit and the appointment of a chair.

We took a careful, consultative approach to try to build consensus, I can today report to Parliament on the outcomes of that.

Presiding Officer, it is important to emphasise that no Inquiry can right the wrongs of the past.

But that is not a reason to fail to act.

Presiding Officer, we have listened to the views of survivors on the shape and scope of the Inquiry.

I am grateful to those who have given of their time and knowledge, but I know many have yet to come forward. I do hope, sincerely, that survivors will use this opportunity to tell of their experiences and testify to the Inquiry.

This Inquiry will aim to shine a light in the dark corners of the past, to shape how we respond in the present and guide how we go forward in the future.

We need to learn all we can to ensure no institution becomes a hiding place for those who abuse positions of trust to prey on children. We want to make Scotland the best place for all our children to grow up.

Children and young people must grow up feeling cared for, nurtured and loved as well as being protected from harm, abuse and neglect.

We have a particular commitment to our most vulnerable young people, those for whose care and protection the state is directly responsible.

Accordingly, we will listen carefully to the inquiries eventual recommendations and make whatever changes may be necessary to policy, practice or legislation.

Reaching a decision on the 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, and specific conclusions. I am mindful of the urgency of this last issue, given the age and health of some survivors.

The Inquiry will examine any instance where a child was abused “in care”, including residential care; children’s homes; secure care; borstals and young offenders institutions; and also those placed in foster care.

“In care” will also carry a broader interpretation to include allegations affecting boarded out children; child migrant schemes; school hostels; and health care establishments providing long term care for children.

Independent boarding schools are also included. While parents were responsible for the placement of their children in these institutions, the state also had a responsibility to ensure a standard of care.

The starting date for the Inquiry’s scope will simply be ‘within living memory’. The Inquiry’s Chair will determine the exact end date, but it will be no later than 17 December 2014.

This timeline goes further than originally envisaged and has been informed by the views of survivors and others. And the Inquiry will be asked to report to Ministers within 4 years of the date of commencement, to be no later than 1 October.

I expect it to take a human rights based approach, to be inquisitorial rather than adversarial, enabling people with little experience of legal processes to engage with it.

Crucially, the Inquiry will also examine the on-going effects of abuse on survivors and their families to improve our understanding of the issues they face, to help us improve support for them now and in the future.

Taking all this into account, the Inquiry needs a Chair who can rise to these challenges while gaining and maintaining the confidence of survivors. I am pleased to announce Susan O’Brien QC will chair the Inquiry.

Ms O’Brien is an experienced advocate in civil litigation, including issues pertinent to the Inquiry, and has a knowledge and expertise in human rights. She also chaired the Caleb Ness Inquiry in Edinburgh in 2003.

I am grateful to her for agreeing to take on this significant task.

Of course, the Inquiry forms a significant part of the Scottish Government’s wider response to the Scottish Human Rights Commission InterAction plan.

As significant as this will be, it does not stand alone in demonstrating our commitment to survivors of abuse.

Survivors have told me about childhoods lost as a result of abuse. Their experiences have impacted adversely on their adult lives too. Restoring what has been lost is vital.

Scotland is one of only a few countries to develop and implement a dedicated support strategy for survivors of historic abuse in any setting. For 10 years SurvivorScotland has delivered services many survivors describe as their ‘life line’. We now intend to build on this and do more.

And so, I am announcing today that we will set up a dedicated support fund for survivors of abuse 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.

I am also announcing an additional £1 million to enhance the support available to all who have been abused, whether in-care or not, through the SurvivorScotland development fund.

Through the InterAction process, many of those abused in care as children called for the right to seek reparation. This would involve removing the “time bar” which requires a civil case for compensation to be brought to court within the 3 year limitation period.

At the heart of this issue is the reality of childhood abuse. It can take decades for a survivor to have the strength to challenge their abuser in court.

Having listened to survivors and examined the legal position carefully, I can announce that this Scottish Government intends to lift the three-year time bar on civil action in cases of historical childhood abuse since September 1964. We will consult on how best to do this in the summer.

And, to further demonstrate our commitment to this issue, we will also produce a draft Bill by the end of this parliamentary session.

With regard to cases before September 1964, I must be clear that there are considerable challenges regarding human rights. We will, of course, continue to listen to views on what, if anything, can be done to remove barriers pre-1964.

I believe all I have set out today demonstrates this is a dynamic process.

We are a Scottish Parliament that listens, hears and acts. While we cannot undo the deeds of the past, we can acknowledge them, address their impact and learn how to do much better in the future to protect Scotland’s most vulnerable children.

As a Parliament, we can and must give a voice to those who have been silenced for too long. We can and must recognise the abuse they suffered as children. And, we can – we must – we will do everything we can to ensure the same thing never happens again.