Abuse inquiry to have jail power
People who refuse to co-operate with an inquiry into historical child abuse could be jailed for six months, it has been revealed.
Jonathan Bell said fines of £1,000 could also be handed to anyone who impedes the new investigation.
The DUP Junior Minister was speaking as the Assembly passed the Historical Institutional Abuse Bill - the legislation which determines the remit of the new investigation.
Mr Bell said: "The Bill bestows on the chairperson powers to compel witnesses who appear before the inquiry and to compel evidence to be produced to it.
"It will be an offence to contravene a restriction order. It will also be an offence to deliberately alter or conceal evidence requested by the inquiry or which is likely to be of interest to it. The penalty will be a level three fine, £1,000, or six months imprisonment. Or both."
Former High Court judge Sir Anthony Hart was appointed to head the panel that will examine whether there were systemic failings by care homes, children's homes, borstals or the state in their duties towards children. The inquiry will look at cases between 1922 and 1995.
It comes after the Ryan Report uncovered decades of endemic abuse in some religious institutions in the Republic of Ireland.
The inquiry will decide whether institutional abuse was systemic in Northern Ireland; decide on the nature of any apology and who should make it; and whether there should be a memorial for child abuse victims. It will also look at the issue of redress and compensation.
An Acknowledgement Forum where victims can detail their experiences in institutions started taking evidence in October.
Last month it emerged that costs for the inquiry had doubled to £19 million.