The shocking revelations of how the investigations were conducted into the Hillsborough disaster will only shake an increasingly disturbed faith in the British inquiries system. Our own research in May this year, of more than 2,000 Britons, showed fewer than a third (27 per cent) said they had confidence in the inquiry system.
So what could be done differently? How can a process overcome defensiveness towards a “judgement” of the facts, motivating some to cover up events?
Would the real events at Hillsborough have emerged had a different inquiry process been used much sooner, one which considered the needs of all the stakeholders, especially the families of the Liverpool supporters? Such a stakeholder focus would have needed to search for acceptable answers for the families, and thus it is possible any misleading information would have been uncovered far sooner. A fact-based inquiry process can only deal with the facts available, which thus determines its agenda – a stakeholder focus can be a different proposition.
It is because there has been dissatisfaction with numerous public inquiries that the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution has embarked on its own “Inquiry into Inquiries”, that I co-chair with Lord Woolf of Barnes. Our research this year showed that 56 per cent of the public thought that politicians have too much influence over the process and fewer than half (44 per cent) believe public inquiries result in the recommended changes being made.
One of the lessons from how the many different forms of inquiry into Hillsborough were conducted should be that when it comes to inquiries one size does not fit all.
As featured on the Independent online, Thursday 13 September 2012