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12 November 2014
Decision on historic child abuse inquiry imminent

Decision on historic child abuse inquiry imminent

A decision on whether to hold a national inquiry into historic child sexual abuse in Scotland is to be made by the end of the year.

Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Michael Russell, yesterday told MSPs survivors of historic abuse in care had made a “strong and persuasive case”.

However, he said further discussions were needed over the nature of any inquiry before ministers reach a final decision. Russell has vowed to unveil the Scottish Government’s decision before parliament breaks up for recess on December 19.

The Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has repeatedly called for a full public inquiry to establish the full scale of historic abuse of children in care homes, educational institutions and the like.

It follows a two-year process that has brought survivors together with representatives from institutions and government, residential care workers as well as others.

“I have taken no position on the final decision on a further inquiry,” said Russell. “A strong and persuasive case is coming from the InterAction process, and other cases are being made. 

“I have committed myself to continuing to listen and having further discussions about that, and the InterAction process is coming back together to discuss it. 

“Work remains to be done across the whole area in terms of an inquiry that is different from the type of inquiry that convention has established - for example, an inquiry under the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2005. I will come back to Parliament to report further on that”

Among issues that still need to be resolved before a decision is reached is whether existing law can underpin the type of inquiry called for, which is “very different… from that which is usually established by statute and by government”.

A sweeping inquiry south of the border into historical child sex abuse allegations has run into repeated trouble. 

Its second chairwoman, Fiona Woolf, stood down in recent weeks after losing the confidence of victims due to her links with establishment figures. Home Secretary Theresa May last week apologised to survivors for the ongoing saga.

“I would not commend the approach that has been taken south of the border, where a decision on an inquiry and its remit seems to have been announced ex cathedra to the people who would be most affected by it,” said Russell. 

“That is not the right way to do it, and I do not think that it is how the Scottish Parliament will want to do it.”

SHRC chair Professor Alan Miller said Russell’s commitment was a “move in the right direction”. “The state has a duty to protect people from abuse and to fulfill their rights to justice and remedies,” he said. 

“In our view, a national inquiry is an important mechanism for providing accountability for past abuses, learning lessons from the past and preventing future abuses."

Parties involved in the InterAction process would be reconvened at the “earliest opportunity” to address a range of questions around a national inquiry, added Miller.

Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Labour MSP, Graeme Pearson, said: “Many survivors will look forward to the introduction of a public inquiry. Christmas cannot come soon enough for them. 

“They believe that a public inquiry will give us a full understanding of why we are where we are and how we can prevent things from recurring in the future in the way that they seem to have done in past decades.”

The Lord Advocate last month confirmed in an interview with Holyrood that prosecutors are to be given ‘bespoke’ training in how to deal with historical sexual abuse within institutions.

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