When the Government decided to establish an inquiry into mother and baby homes, the model of investigation that it chose was a commission of investigation under the Commissions of Investigation Act of 2004. That decision by Government, and the subsequent establishment, under the law, of the Commission, had indelible consequences for the format of the investigation that was to be conducted, for the mode of engagement with the Commission by third parties who gave evidence, for the rights of those third parties, for the Commission’s report, and for its records.
The entire premise of the 2004 Act is that investigations are held in private. Where commissions are held entirely in private, their records constitute confidential evidence given in private. That confidentiality applies seamlessly to the evidence and records gathered by the inquiry, both during the life of a commission of investigation itself, and after its dissolution when records have been deposited with the Minister.
The GDPR right to access personal data is expressly restricted by the Commissions of Investigations Act 2004. The 2004 Act provides for the means whereby the archive, and the confidentiality of that archive, are to be preserved. Any disclosure by a department of the records deposited with it is prohibited by law and would be an offence.
Section 11(3) of the 2004 Act will continue to prohibit disclosure of evidence given or the contents of any document produced by a witness while giving evidence in private, except in very limited exceptions which would not be applicable in this instance. After a 30 year period has elapsed, decisions on access at that time and thereafter are governed by Section 8 of the National Archives Act.