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Inquiry Into Historical Institutional Abuse Act (Northern Ireland) 2013

Background and Policy Objectives

3.On 29 September 2011 the Executive announced there would be an investigation and inquiry into historical institutional abuse. The inquiry’s terms of reference were set out by the First Minister and deputy First Minister in a written statement to the Assembly on 18 October 2012.

4.Bearing in mind the need to guard against future abuse, the inquiry is to make findings and recommendations on whether there were systemic failings by the state or institutions in their duties towards those children under 18 for whom they provided residential care between 1922 and 1995 (both years inclusive). An institution is any body, society or organisation with responsibility for the care, health or welfare of children in Northern Ireland, other than a school (but including a training school or borstal) which provided residential care accommodation and took decisions about and made provision for the day to day care of children.

5.The inquiry will also make findings and recommendations on an apology (by whom and the nature of the apology); an appropriate memorial or tribute to those who suffered abuse; and the requirement or desirability for redress to be provided by the institutions and/or the Executive to meet the particular needs of victims.

6.The inquiry’s findings and recommendations will be considered by the Executive, which will decide the way forward.

7.The chairperson of the inquiry panel, who will chair and direct the inquiry, is a member of the judiciary. The inquiry will include a confidential “acknowledgement forum” in which victims and survivors can recount their experiences in institutions to members of the inquiry panel who have been particularly chosen to progress this element of the inquiry’s work. As well as hearing and acknowledging people’s experiences, the acknowledgement forum will result in an anonymised report outlining the experiences of victims and survivors.

8.The inquiry will also include an inquisitorial process by which the chairperson, supported by two dedicated inquiry panel members, will examine evidence and question witnesses under oath in order to make findings and recommendations. At the discretion of the chairperson and for the protection of witnesses and information, some sessions of this work are likely to be held in private.

9.While it is hoped that evidence requested by the inquiry would be provided voluntarily and that witnesses invited would come forward willingly, this may not always be the case. It is therefore necessary for the chairperson of the inquiry to have powers to compel witnesses and evidence, and for these to be supported by appropriate enforcement measures, offences, penalties and sanctions.

10.The work of the chairperson and the panel will be supported by a legal team and a research and investigation team. Dedicated staff with appropriate skills will support victims and survivors during their involvement with the inquiry process.

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Explanatory Notes

Text created by the Northern Ireland Assembly department responsible for the subject matter of the Act to explain what the Act sets out to achieve and to make the Act accessible to readers who are not legally qualified. Explanatory Notes accompany all Acts of the Northern Ireland Assembly.


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