Costly inquiries waste expert knowledge

The Government’s approach to public inquiries wastes expert knowledge and makes inquiries longer and more costly, according to a House of Lords Committee.

The Inquiries Act 2005: post-legislative scrutiny report, published in March, found the overall framework of the Act to be good but that the Government is not using the legislation enough, and is setting up inquiries with “inadequate powers”. It recommends that a specialist unit be set up within the Courts and Tribunals Service of the Ministry of Justice to assist all public inquiries and pass on best practice.


Commenting on the report, Committee Chairman Lord Shutt of Greetland said: “Every time there is a new inquiry in this country it’s as though the previous ones had never happened. We really need to make the most of any lessons learned from past inquiries, and make the most of our collective knowledge and proficiency in this field.”

The report recommended that a Central Inquiries Unit be set up to form “a new centre of expertise” to “enable future inquiries to hit the ground running” and be “more efficient, more streamlined and less costly to the public”. Other suggestions were that inquiry panels should have a single member, rather than a panel, and that victims and families should routinely meet with inquiry chairmen and their needs “handled sensitively”.

Further, an inquiry’s recommendations should be formally accepted or rejected by those bodies to whom they have been directed, with a three-month deadline in which to respond and if accepted, there should be a formal implementation plan.

Non-statutory inquiries do not have the powers to compel the production of documents and the attendance of witnesses, and to require witnesses to give evidence on oath. The report found “three instances where those involved in the setting up of inquiries seem either not to be aware of this simple fact, or to be prepared to attempt to devise a way to circumvent it”.

Justice Minister Simon Hughes said: “I welcome the Committee’s report, and its finding that The Inquiries Act 2005 has worked well. The Coalition will carefully consider its recommendations.” Support in establishing and running inquiries is currently provided by the Ministry of Justice and the Cabinet Office.

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