Formal Investigations

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Article 16 of The Commissioner for Children and Young People (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 (“2003 Order”) empowers the Commissioner to conduct formal investigations.  These can be in respect of:

  • Advocacy, complaint, inspection, and whistle-blowing arrangements of relevant authorities (including in individual cases); and
  • Complaints against relevant authorities.

The “relevant authorities” that can be subject to a formal investigation include an array of public bodies in Northern Ireland as set out in the 2003 Order as well as the Public Services Ombudsman Act (Northern Ireland) 2016.  These can, for example, include boards of governors at schools, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, Education Authority, Health and Social Care Trusts, the Housing Executive, Northern Ireland Policing Board, and others.

It is a matter of discretion for the Commissioner whether to conduct a formal investigation.  If this discretion is exercised, the investigation is to be conducted in accordance with a terms of reference specific to it and, if there is one, to a particular child.  The Commissioner must give relevant authorities who are subject of formal investigation a chance to comment upon matters raised and to give replying evidence.

Powers and Process

In conducting a formal investigation the Commissioner has the same powers as the High Court in respect of requiring:

  • Attendance by witnesses (including administration of oaths or affirmations as well as examinations); and
  • Production of documentation.

Formal investigations are to be done in private using processes considered appropriate by the Commissioner.  However, if it appears that there will be grounds for making adverse findings against relevant authorities the Commissioner shall afford those bodies a chance review and respond to evidence and to submit their own evidence should they wish.

Article 18 of the 2003 Order requires the Commissioner to prepare a report of formal investigation findings, and to share it with stipulated parties.  Such report must be appropriately anonymised and may include recommendations for action to be taken by relevant authorities.  Article 19 of the 2003 Order allows the Commissioner to later review and issue a statement in respect of progress made by relevant authorities in implementing report recommendations.  Article 19 directs the Commissioner to keep a register of these matters.

NICCY Formal Investigations

Front cover from NICCY's Looked After formal investigation

To date NICCY has completed one formal investigation entitled ‘Looked After? A Formal Investigation into the Life of a Child in the care of the State’. The report details our investigation into the experience of ‘Vicky’ (not her real name), who was subject to breaches of her rights due to systemic failings in her care.