The Inquiries Act 2005: post-legislative scrutiny - Select Committee on the Inquiries Act 2005 Contents

CHAPTER 9: overview of the inquiries act

291.  We have made a number of recommendations, some of them significant, for amendment of the Act. We have not however heard any suggestion that the Act as a whole requires radical surgery. The major criticisms of it at the time it was a Bill, suggesting that the powers of ministers under the Act would be so excessive that no self-respecting judge would consider appointment as chairman of an inquiry under the Act,[428] have proved unfounded. On the contrary, the judges who have chaired inquiries under the Act have described it as "good legislation"[429] which "did provide me with adequate powers to conduct the inquiry in a way that was efficient and as effective as I could make it."[430]

292.  There has been criticism of some inquiries under the Act, especially on grounds of length and cost, but it seems that the public generally have confidence in inquiries under the Act—certainly more confidence than in those non-statutory inquiries where much of the evidence has been given in private.[431] But no inquiry has been set up under the Act since the Leveson Inquiry in July 2011.[432] Why is it that ministers are so reluctant to set up inquiries under an Act that broadly had the support of all the main parties when it was passed nine years ago?

293.  The answer is not that there have been no matters of public concern. As we explained in chapter 3, even in the time this Committee has been working we have been informed of over 30 serious calls for inquiries to be set up. We do not suggest that all of these would have justified an inquiry; perhaps none of them would. But in that time the only reasons given for not holding inquiries are the statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in relation to the Omagh bombing,[433] and the Home Secretary's letter to the coroner declining to convert the Litvinenko inquest into an inquiry.[434] The Statement of the Secretary of State for Health regarding the setting up of the non-statutory Morecambe Bay inquiry does not give reasons why the inquiry was not established under the Act[435]; and nor does the letter from Lord Faulks QC in relation to the independent review into self-inflicted deaths of young adults in custody.[436]

294.  We believe the reason may be an assumption that inquiries, and especially statutory inquiries, are necessarily lengthy and expensive. This certainly seems to have been taken for granted by the Divisional Court in its judgment in Ali Zaki Mousa (No. 2),[437] and there is no doubt that some inquiries have been inordinately lengthy and expensive. In his statement to the House of Commons on 15 June 2010 on the report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry the Prime Minister said: "Of course, none of us anticipated that the Saville Inquiry would take 12 years or cost almost £200 million … let me reassure the House that there will be no more open-ended and costly inquiries into the past."[438]

295.  However inquiries do not have to be lengthy. The Leveson Inquiry received over 1,000 submissions and heard oral evidence from some 350 witnesses, yet it reported within 16 months of being set up, and might have reported weeks or even months earlier if it had not had to undertake "literally thousands of hours of work"[439] on warning letters to comply with the requirements of rules 13-15 of the Inquiry Rules, which we have recommended should be revoked.[440]

296.  Nor do inquiries have to be costly. The Leveson Inquiry had a large staff—essential if it was to complete its task in that time. The cost, £5.4 million, was considerable, but not excessive for the work it had to undertake, and would have been significantly less but for the work on warning letters. Other less wide-ranging inquiries have cost substantially less.[441]

297.  Our recommendations, in particular those on the setting up and administration of inquiries, and on a more flexible procedure, will make it easier to control both the length and the cost of inquiries under the Act. In particular, revocation of rules 13-15 should alone cut months off the length of inquiries, and reduce their cost proportionately. We see no reason why, if our recommendations are accepted and implemented, an inquiry set up under the Act should be longer or more costly than one with another statutory basis, or no statutory basis.

298.  We are fortunate to live in a parliamentary democracy where the public in general trust the executive and the organs of the state. We believe that such trust is not often misplaced. This makes it the more important that, where trust has been shaken, it should be restored. Where there is public concern, we believe the inquiry process is well placed to allay it, and to make recommendations which may help to restore trust.

299.  This will not happen if ministers are reluctant to set up inquiries where these are justified. Disaster Action told us that

    "a campaign by family groups over many years, and through many changes of government, is the only way to achieve what should have occurred in the first place … It is unfortunate, however, that [the setting up of the Hillsborough Independent Panel] should only have occurred when the bereaved or survivors have been willing and able to sustain exhausting and costly campaigns over decades." [442]

It should not have taken "a small group of mostly elderly people [who] had to stand out in the wind, snow and rain for nearly two years following ministers round"[443] before ministers agreed to set up the Mid Staffordshire inquiry.

300.  Ministers have at their disposal on the statute book an Act and Rules which, subject to the reservations we have set out, in our view constitute a good framework for such inquiries. Ministers should be ready to make better use of these powers, and should set up inquiries under the Inquiries Act unless there are overriding reasons of security or sensitivity for doing otherwise.

428   Paragraph 198. Back

429   Lord Gill, Q 192. Back

430   Sir Brian Leveson, Q 101. Back

431   See evidence of Professor Adam Tomkins: "I know of no evidence that suggests that there is a problem with public confidence in the context of Inquiries Act inquiries. Indeed, it would seem to me that if and insofar as there is a problem of public confidence in inquiries it is in non-statutory inquiries that have been established since 2005 rather than in statutory inquiries, the obvious examples being the Iraq inquiry and the Detainees inquiry." (Q 29) Back

432   And only two non-statutory inquiries: the Morecambe Bay investigation; and the independent review into self-inflicted deaths of young adults in custody. Back

433   See Box 4, paragraph 97. Back

434   Ibid.  Back

435   Paragraph 64. Back

436   Paragraph 65. Back

437   See paragraph 74. Back

438   HC Deb, 15 June 2010, col 741. Back

439   Sir Robert Jay, Q 125. Back

440   Paragraph 251. Back

441   See paragraph 181. Back

442   Written evidence, paragraphs 4.3 and 13.2. Back

443   Julie Bailey, Q 152. Back

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