Bloody Sunday report to have a chilling effect on future inquiries?

18 June 2010 by

The controversy generated by the Bloody Sunday Inquiry continues to generate much comment and conjecture.

Lord Saville himself is to resign his judicial post in the Supreme Court early, although he was only a year away from retirement at age 75.

The most pressing concern for many of the relatives of those who were killed will be riding the momentum in order to push for prosecutions; either for the deaths themselves (fairly unlikely given the length of time which has elapsed since the killings) or perjury. Whilst public inquiries are not supposed to lead directly to prosecutions, at least not as a result of a person’s self-incriminating evidence, they can led to charges if someone is found to have lied under oath. The views of the families of the dead appear to be mixed in relation to this possibility.

Another important outcome of the report will be its effect on future public inquiries. We posted earlier this week on the potential chilling effect the furore over the £205m cost of the Inquiry may have on future public inquiries. Louise Blom Cooper writes in the Guardian:

Why did Lord Saville not choose the shorter, more manageable method of providing the basic issues and avoiding the personalising of conduct of individuals on the ground? The answer is the fact that ever since 1966, tribunals of inquiry have been infected with an unhelpful tinge of legalism.

The Royal Commission on Tribunals of Inquiry under the chairmanship of Lord Salmon recommended that some of the procedural safeguards of the legal system should apply to public inquiries… The Salmon recommendations were never enacted, but the practice, until the Scott inquiry on arms to Iraq over four years in the mid-1990s, has been to adopt the legalisms of Lord Salmon, including, vitally, the issue of “Salmon letters” to individuals alerting them to potential criticism. The legal rights of witnesses are not directly in jeopardy. At worst, their reputations are at stake.

One is driven to the conclusion that, until the Inquiries Act 2005 abolished the 1921 act, tribunals had been hijacked by the legal profession… Public inquiries should, as was always intended, be essentially creatures of public administration, and not be regarded as a means of pinning the blame on individual parties.

Some of the criticisms by the Government over the Saville report is probably aimed at dampening public anger at the inquiry’s enormous expense rather than suggesting further changes in the inquiries system, which has already been significantly reformed by the Inquiries Act 2005. Any drawing down of future public inquiries, however, may lead the state vulnerable to human rights claims for failing to investigate deaths properly.

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