A SENIOR judge has been appointed to take over Scotland’s controversial public inquiry into the abuse of children in care, the Scottish Government announced yesterday.
Lady Smith has been put in charge of the investigation into historical abuse and replaces the previous chair Susan O’Brien QC who left a month ago claiming she was being undermined by the government.
The new appointment was made by Education Secretary John Swinney who hopes Lady Smith can bring some stability to the inquiry, which has been rocked by two high-profile resignations.
Ms O’Brien’s departure came after the resignation of Professor Michael Lamb, a member of the inquiry’s three person panel who left in protest at what he described as Scottish Government interference.
Mr Swinney praised Lady Smith’s “leadership, independence and sensitivity”, but abuse survivors expressed concern that the Scottish Government had not appointed one of three individuals they had proposed.
Alan Draper, the parliamentary liaison officer of In Care Abuse Survivors (Incas), last night said: “We were given five minutes’ notice by government of her appointment. We would have welcomed being properly consulted by Mr Swinney. We had proposed either Lord Malcolm , Lord McEwan, or Michael Mansfield. We were confident in their ability to act independently of government. We are not aware of Lady Smith’s ability at this stage, but we will be investigating.
“We have not been made aware if they had approached any of the people who we recommended, or why they were not approached.”
Mr Swinney stressed the new inquiry chair – whose appointment was announced in a letter to Holyrood’s education committee – would carry out her role “without fear or favour”.
He said Lady Smith, who was appointed as a judge in 2001, would bring “a wealth of knowledge and experience to the leadership of the inquiry from her significant service both as a QC and as a judge”.
He added: “Her leadership, independence and sensitivity will be key to the inquiry’s progress. It is in the nature of Lady Smith’s background as an experienced judge that the inquiry will be taken forward without fear or favour to identify how individuals and institutions failed many of Scotland’s most vulnerable children.”
The Deputy First Minister also reiterated his willingness to consider the scope of the inquiry following calls from some abuse survivors for its remit to be extended.
Ministers set up the inquiry to examine allegations of abuse from youngsters placed in children’s homes and in foster care, as well as those cared for by faith-based organisations or in long-term hospital care and boarding schools.
Mr Swinney said: “At the request of a number of survivors, I have agreed to consider the scope of the terms of reference. In the coming weeks I will give this matter further thought, including discussion with Lady Smith.”
Lady Smith, who will take on the role on 1 August, stressed that “protection of the innocence and wellbeing of children is of fundamental importance to a healthy society”.
She said: “Sadly, many children placed in residential care in this country have, over a period stretching back years, not been afforded the protection they deserved. Their voices now require to be heard and questions of when, where, how and why it happened require to be fully addressed.”