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House of Lords Inquiries Act Committee publishes report on Inquiries Act 2005

14 March 2014

The Lords Committee, which was set up especially to look into the Inquiries Act 2005, published its report, The Inquiries Act 2005: post-legislative scrutiny on 11 March and urged the Government to set up a specialist unit to assist all public inquiries and pass on best practice.

The committee concluded that the government’s approach to public inquiries wastes expert knowledge and makes inquiries longer and more costly and that new inquiries are often carried out, at vast expense as though previous ones had never happened. It found that the government is not using the legislation enough, and is setting up inquiries with ‘inadequate powers’. Underlining the consequences of this in a comment on the Home Secretary’s announcement on 6 March that there would be a judge-led inquiry into undercover policing the Chairman, Lord Shutt said: “she did not say whether or not it was going to be under the 2005 Act. If it is not, the chairman will not be able to summon those witnesses who refused to attend previous reviews”.

INQUEST’s Co-Director, Helen Shaw, gave evidence to the Inquiry and the report recognised some of our central concerns. In particular the report acknowledged the importance to practitioners who represent bereaved families that inquests remain the preferred method for fulfilling the State’s article 2 obligations following contentious deaths, the importance of the centrality of victims and bereaved families in inquiries and the need for counsel for families as well as counsel to the inquiry. The report’s on how recommendations from inquiries should be dealt with are also very welcome.

Amongst the committee’s other findings were:

• The overall framework of the Act is good, but Ministers should be using it more and not setting up non-statutory inquiries, i.e. those not under the Act.
• A Central Inquiries Unit should be established within the Courts and Tribunals Service of the Ministry of Justice, to set up and provide support for inquiries.
• This unit will be responsible for guidance on best practice to pass on to future inquiries.
• Inquiry panels should have a single member, rather than a panel.
• Victims and families should routinely meet with inquiry chairmen and their needs must be handled sensitively.
• An inquiry’s recommendations should be formally accepted or rejected by those bodies to whom they have been directed. These bodies should have a three month deadline in which to respond.
• If accepted, there should be a formal implementation plan.
• Recommendations from this report to change the Act and the Rules will lead to shorter, easier to manage and less expensive inquiries.

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