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Lords investigate whether public inquiries are fit for purpose

A House of Lords scrutiny committee, created to look into the Inquiries Act 2005, launches its investigation today.

The Lords Select Committee on the Inquiries Act 2005, which will also investigate public inquiries more generally, is now asking for evidence to be submitted.

The Inquiries Act 2005 was intended to ensure public inquiries were more effective at finding facts and making practical recommendations, as well as being thorough, wide ranging and cost-effective. It also aimed to restore public confidence following concerns and controversies from inquiries such as the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, which was published after 12 years at an estimated cost of nearly £200 million.

The committee will consider how effective the Act has been and what might need to change to maintain public confidence. It is the first time that this piece of legislation has been scrutinised in this way.

The committee, which is now inviting contributions, is expected to report by the end of February 2014.

The committee will examine a range of questions such as:

  • Are public inquiries generally set up when they are needed, and if not why not? Are there examples of cases where an inquiry would have been useful, but minsters declined to set one up?
  • Is the degree of judicial involvement in inquiries appropriate?
  • Has the 2005 Act succeeded in reducing the length and cost of inquiries? If not, what could be done to achieve these goals?
  • Has the 2005 Act succeeded in securing confidence in inquiries both from those closely involved – the core participants – and from the wider public generally?
  • Are the recommendations made by inquiries adequately implemented? Should there be a procedure for an inquiry to reconvene to consider this?

Committee Chairman, Lord Shutt of Greetland, said:

“Whether they are investigating transport disasters, failings in health care or deaths in custody, inquiries play a key role in understanding and resolving matters of genuine public concern.
“Therefore it is vital for public confidence that the UK has an inquiry process that is effective, thorough and cost-effective. We will be investigating how well the Inquiries Act 2005 secures such a process, as well as scrutinising the law and practice relating to inquiries generally, with a view to establishing how to improve the system.

“This is the first time that this piece of legislation has been scrutinised by a parliamentary committee and I strongly believe that our investigation will prove timely.

“We welcome contributions from everyone who has experience of, or expertise in, the inquiry process - from those who have taken part in inquiries to those who have been directly affected by their outcomes.”

Written evidence must be received by 31 July 2013.

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