Launching Inquiries at Westminster

Yesterday was a particularly rewarding experience for all those who have worked on CEDR’s Inquiry into Inquires in the last couple of years. At a special event at the House of Lords in the Palace of Westminster, the Co-Chairs of the initiative, Lord Woolf and Dr Karl Mackie CBE, summed up our achievement in not only undertaking the research and coming up with recommendations but also creating practical advice for newly appointed chairs of inquiries and commissioning bodies. However, it was probably Lord Shutt, who has chaired the House of Lords’ own Committee to inquiry into inquiries, who made the greatest impact when talking about how the work of the Lords and the CEDR initiative might usefully combine to inform government, when looking to improve how these increasingly important instruments of state are used. One thing is for certain, whilst Inquiries continue to enjoy the high level of popularity in the media (combined with high levels of public scrutiny, the guidance from CEDR is not going to want for an audience.

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Lord Harry Woolf, Lady Elizabeth Vallance, and Dr Karl Mackie CBE at the Public Inquiries launch

Extract from “Enquiring into Inquiries” by Joshua Rozenberg

“Theresa May’s difficulty in finding someone to head a public inquiry into child abuse is symptomatic of deeper failures.

[…]

May would have been much better off if she had seen a report on public inquiries published last week by the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR). The report points out that an inquiry’s terms of reference are critical to its success, because they define its purpose and parameters.

Often, they turn out to be too limited. CEDR believes terms of reference can ‘become misunderstood or misinterpreted by those who need to refer to or understand them; or they can become misaligned with an evolving public debate or with the inquiry’s own evolving sense of the key issues’.

Anyone asked to chair an inquiry will want to know its terms of reference before taking on the job. But the inquiry chair, says CEDR, will have views on the wording and may want to consult those affected. Although the 2005 act does not provide for a cooling-off period, there is limited scope for changing the terms of reference before the inquiry formally opens.

CEDR concludes that ‘much of the dissatisfaction expressed around inquiries and their outcomes arises because the public inquiry “vessel” is used to contain too broad a mix of purposes’. Judges may be good at finding out what went wrong but they are less adept at designing new structures, so one solution would be to split the inquiry into two phases with different chairs.

The CEDR report has produced some wise recommendations. Let us hope that, unlike so many, they are not left to gather dust.”

To read the whole article, click here.

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