Public inquiries are convened to investigate and report in the wake of the biggest failings, tragedies or miscarriages of justice that have afflicted our country.
They can be statutory (usually under the Inquiries Act 2005) or non-statutory. They are meant to be searching and impartial and to make recommendations. Whilst they are not supposed to overtly apportion blame for what happened, the distinction between accountability and blame is often lost in the glare of publicity.
Statutory inquiries are vested with powers to demand the disclosure of documents and the written and oral accounts from individuals whom they deem to be significant witnesses. Organisations and witnesses may therefore be compelled to provide evidence as to their conduct when maybe they would have preferred that it was not meticulously examined in public.
If you have been, or expect to be, called on to participate in a public inquiry you should obtain independent legal advice. “Independent” in this context means consulting a solicitor whose concern is your interests and not also, for example, those of your employer. Sometimes having the same solicitor advising you and another participant can turn out to be a mistake.
Public inquiries are often closely monitored by the police in order to identify evidence of criminal conduct that can then be prosecuted after the inquiry has published its final report. A participant when considering whether to obtain independent legal advice in relation to an inquiry should bear that danger in mind.
We are experts in acting for clients who are involved in inquiries. We advise as to their potential exposure, their dealings with the inquiry and the preparation of their written and oral evidence.
- Acting for a well-known former senior executive at the BBC interviewed in the investigation chaired by Lord Dyson into allegations of impropriety arising from the conduct of the Panorama interview with Princess Diana.
- Advising core participants in the inquiry chaired by Lord Justice Leveson into culture, practices and ethics of the British press.
- Acting for a senior individual in the investigation chaired by Alison Levitt QC into allegations of impropriety arising from the handling of a Treasury Management audit at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.
- Advising a witness in the Post Office/ Horizon inquiry chaired by Sir Wyn Williams.
- Acting for an individual employed by the Bank of England in the inquiry into liquidity auctions chaired by Lord Grabiner QC.
- Advising a witness in the Bloody Sunday inquiry chaired by Lord Saville.