Public inquiry

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A tribunal of inquiry is an official review of events or actions ordered by a government body in Common Law countries such as the United Kingdom, Ireland or Canada. Such a public inquiry differs from a Royal Commission in that a public inquiry accepts evidence and conducts its hearings in a more public forum and focuses on a more specific occurrence. Interested members of the public and organisations may not only make (written) evidential submissions as is the case with most inquiries, but also listen to oral evidence given by other parties.

Typical events for a public inquiry are those that cause multiple deaths, such as public transport crashes or mass murders. However, in the UK, the Planning Inspectorate, an agency of the Department for Communities and Local Government, routinely holds public inquiries into a range of major and lesser land use developments, including highways and other transport proposals.

Advocacy groups and opposition political parties are likely to ask for public inquiries for all manner of issues. The government of the day typically only accedes to a fraction of these requests. A public inquiry generally takes longer to report and costs more on account of its public nature. Thus when a government refuses a public inquiry on some topic, it is usually on these grounds.

The conclusions of the inquiry are delivered in the form of a written report, given first to the government, and soon after published to the public. The report will generally make recommendations to improve the quality of government or management of public organisations in the future.

Republic of Ireland

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United Kingdom

An inquiry is usually chaired by a well-known and well-respected member of the upper echelons of British society, such as a judge, lord, professor or senior civil servant.

List of some public inquiries in the UK

Inquiry name Announcement date Launch date Report date Chaired by Reason for inquiry
Treachery of the Blue Books 1847 The poor state of education in Wales
Lynskey tribunal 1948 Allegations of corruption in the Government and the civil service
Aberfan disaster inquiry Oct 1966 Aug 1967 Sir Herbert Edmund Davies The tipping of coal waste to slide into Pantglas Junior School in Aberfan, killing 144 on 21 October 1966. The inquiry represents something of a watershed, particularly into inquiries related to coal-mining disasters. Prior inquiries are usually described by historians as whitewashes. This inquiry openly and damningly blamed the disaster on the National Coal Board
Tay Bridge disaster The fall of the Tay bridge on 28 December 1879. An express train was lost as the bridge fell, killing 75 people. The inquiry found that the bridge had been "badly designed, badly built and badly maintained"
Cullen Inquiry Mar 1996 Sep 1996 Lord Cullen The shootings at Dunblane Primary School by Thomas Hamilton on 13 March 1996
The May Inquiry 1989 Eventually transformed into the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice
The Saville Inquiry 1998 June 2010 Lord Saville Bloody Sunday – the killing of 14 people by soldiers of the Parachute Regiment in Derry on 30 January 1972.
The Widgery Tribunal 1972 Also concerned with the Bloody Sunday shootings
The Lane Inquiry 20 November 1972 14 April 1973 Mr Justice Lane The loss of British European Airways Flight 548 on 18 June 1972
The Bristol Inquiry October 1998 Jul 2001 Professor Sir Ian Kennedy Children's heart surgery carried out at the Bristol Royal Infirmary Hospital between 1984 and 1995
Laming Inquiry Jan 2003 Lord Laming An investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Victoria Climbié
Fingerprint Inquiry Jun 2009 Sir Anthony Campbell "The steps taken to verify the fingerprints associated with the case of the Lord Advocate v Shirley McKie in 1999, and related matters"[1]
Fraser Inquiry 15 September 2004 Construction of the late and overbudget Scottish Parliament Building
The Public Inquiry into the September 2005 Outbreak of E.coli O157 in South Wales 19 March 2009 Professor Hugh Pennington "The circumstances that led to the outbreak of E.coli O157 infection in South Wales in September 2005, and into the handling of the outbreak; and to consider the implications for the future and make recommendations accordingly"[2]
Hutton Inquiry Aug 2003 Sep 2003 Jan 2004 Lord Hutton of Bresagh The circumstances surrounding the suicide of weapons of mass destruction expert David Kelly
The Shipman Inquiry Sep 2000 Feb 2001 Jul 2002 Janet Smith An investigation into the issues surrounding the case of mass murderer Harold Shipman
Ladbroke Grove Rail Inquiry Jul 2000 Lord Cullen Rail crash outside Paddington station in October 1999
Robert Hamill Inquiry Nov 2004 Sir Edwin Jowitt The Inquiry was established to investigate the death of Robert Hamill, following an incident in Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland on 27 April 1997.[3]
Ladbroke Grove and Southall (joint inquiry) Sep 2000 Dec 2000 Lord Cullen Rail crash outside Paddington station in October 1999 and Southall
The ICL Inquiry (joint inquiry) Jan 2008 Jul 2008 Lord Gill Explosion at ICL plastics factory in Glasgow, May 2004, killing 9 and injuring 33
The Iraq Inquiry 15 June 2009 30 July 2009 Sir John Chilcot "To identify the lessons to be learnt from the Iraq conflict"[4]
The Rosemary Nelson Inquiry April 2005 23 May 2011 Murder of Rosemary Nelson, a prominent Irish human rights solicitor
The Leveson Inquiry 13 July 2011[5] 14 November 2011[6] 29 November 2012[7] Lord Justice Leveson An inquiry "into the culture, practices and ethics of the press"[8] in light of the issues surrounding the News International phone hacking scandal
Al-Sweady Inquiry 2009 December 2014 Sir Thayne Forbes Allegations that British service personnel had murdered and ill-treated detainees in Iraq in 2004

See also


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External links