29 Jan 2015
New guidance to combat ineffectiveness of Public Inquiries
Launch of Setting Up and Running a Public Inquiry: Guidance for Chairs & Commissioning Bodies
This timely publication, launched at the Palace of Westminster on 29 January 2015, after a 2-year ‘Inquiry on Inquiries’, aims to give more systematic guidance to those charged with setting up and chairing Public Inquiries, from conception through to delivery of recommendations. It particularly focuses on how inquiries can meet the needs of those most closely affected and respond to public concerns. The guide which is the first of its kind, is written by experts from the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) with contributions by The Rt Hon Lord Woolf and Sir Robert Francis QC, in consultation with former Inquiry Chairs and other experts.
In 2012, when an independent survey of 2000 members of the public, showed 73% lacked confidence in the Public Inquiry process and dissatisfaction with the length and cost of the process, CEDR embarked upon this initiative. The resulting guide is written in a practical format with guidance in each of the chapters, addressing key stages and issues, their particular difficulties and methods for handling many regular problem areas:
How to select an effective Chair of a Public Inquiry, panel members and support team and achieve the necessary independence, objectivity and fairness - thus avoiding some of the recent difficulties that the government have experienced in finding a Chair in the wake of the child abuse scandal
The guide gives a clear structure for timings for the Inquiry and one recommendation is that there is an early initial report, so the public can see the direction that the final report and recommendations are likely to take - something that would have avoided the criticism levelled at the Chilcot Report and the Saville Report
How to consult effectively with relevant groups, such as victims, and engage them in the process before the Public Inquiry - something which never happened sufficiently with the victims of the Hillsborough disaster in the many processes they went through
Strategies for making recommendations more effective and methodologies for checking follow on after the Inquiry has ended - which could have avoided a situation like the Shipman Inquiry where key recommendations which were made were not implemented.
Ways the government can review Public Inquiries post-event to make sure they have been accountable to the public and to Parliament
Using new techniques to handle the most difficult and emotional of issues, enabling Chairs to ask and participants to answer difficult topics, and working with groups to maximise evidence effectiveness and lower the stress and difficulties of giving evidence to ensure a more accurate and balanced outcome
Keeping the public abreast of developments so that the ‘public’ dimension of the inquiry process is properly addressed.
“We undertook this initiative as this crucial public process needs to deliver recommendations that are both just and achievable in an effective way. As we have all seen when this fails to happen the consequences can be dire. There are now too many example of Public Inquiries that have had delayed starts, failures to report on time or deliver what key stakeholders need, or simply been ignored when they issue their recommendations.” said Dr Karl Mackie, CEO of CEDR.
The Rt Hon. Lord Woolf, former Lord Chief Justice for England and Wales comments that, “It is fortunate that CEDR have decided to publish Setting Up and Running a Public Inquiry: Guidance for Chairs & Commissioning Bodies. Those who have conducted Inquiries know how great the need for guidance is.”
“This guidance is likely to encourage lateral thinking and help produce a process which is better tailored to the task in hand.” Sir Robert Francis QC, former Chair of the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry and current author of the Government’s ‘Freedom to Speak Up Review’ (a report into whistleblowing in the NHS).
The initiative, jointly led by Lord Woolf and Dr Mackie, consulted with a group of 28 expert advisers, which has resulted in the production of this guide. The experts, all of whom have led or been involved in major public inquiries, include Senior Civil Servants, Chief Executives of advisory bodies and rights groups, High Court Judges and members of the House of Lords.