The Scottish Government was guided by a “regrettable degree of paternalism” towards child abuse survivors when deciding against establishing an inquiry, it has been heard.

Closing submissions were being given to the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry in Edinburgh on Friday, which examined ministers’ actions surrounding the issue between 2002 and 2014.

It was heard officials believed they knew what was better for survivors than campaigners who had been calling for an inquiry – which had been done consistently until a decision was made under Nicola Sturgeon in 2014.

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Christine O’Neill QC, representing Scottish Ministers, said: “There are a number of reasons why the government did not effectively listen.

“They had an approach to policymaking that didn’t seek out the view of survivors of abuse.

“More fundamentally, Scottish Government engagement was informed by an attitude of paternalism – and an assumption that the needs of survivors would be better met by measures which were therapeutic.”

Stuart Gale QC, for survivors group FBGA, added: “The officials are saying ‘we know what’s best for you’.”

“One could look at it as a regrettable degree of paternalism,” said chairwoman of the inquiry judge Lady Smith.


It was heard the decision not to hold an inquiry by Jack McConnell’s executive and Alex Salmond’s government was not because of a belief that abuse had not happened.

Ms O’Neill added that the consequences of not holding an inquiry earlier were a matter of “profound” regret.

Meanwhile, inadequate and inaccurate information was given to the Scottish Government, which resulted in the delay of a child abuse inquiry being held, it has been heard.

It was heard that ministers and civil servants would have been aware of some form of systemic issues as early as 2002.

However, a decision to hold an inquiry was not made until late 2014 – despite pressure from campaigners – after those in the Scottish Cabinet heard first-hand evidence.

John Scott QC, representing survivor group Incas, claimed an inquiry into mistreatment of children in care was only made possible due to the efforts of abuse survivors.

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He criticised an apology given in 2004 from then first minister Mr McConnell, which omitted the responsibility of the Scottish Government after receiving late legal advice.

It was heard this was done to avoid letting other institutions “off the hook”.

The lawyer told the inquiry that misrepresentations about the scale of abuse and justification to hold an inquiry were always to the detriment of one taking place, although it was also heard this was not done in “bad faith”.

Mr Scott said: “The government record-keeping and advice on this subject was inaccurate and inadequate.

“Conversations on this subject were inadequate, communication with survivors was inadequate.

“Advice from officials emphasised reasons for not having an inquiry, rather than having one.

“Policy decisions changed when ministers personally met with survivors.”

Lady Smith then asked whether civil servants should have advised serious consideration of holding an inquiry at an earlier stage, to which he said they should have.

James Peoples, senior counsel to the inquiry, said it would be “open to say yes” to there being an ability to hold the investigation earlier.

The latest phase of the inquiry has now concluded.