23 August 2023
Why wasn’t Lucy Letby stopped sooner? This is the burning question that the families of her victims, and the public, are now asking. Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, has decided that the best means of answering it is a ‘non-statutory public inquiry’. But what is such an inquiry, and will it be better than a full-blown statutory public inquiry?
Non-statutory inquiries can be set up by anyone, at any time, to investigate anything. They proceed in private and have no legal powers to demand the disclosure of documents or to call witnesses to give evidence. But they have the twin merits of speed and informality. The former may be very valuable, particularly where urgent changes are needed. The latter can facilitate a greater degree of candour about errors that have been made, as witnesses feel less pressure than they do in the full glare of public scrutiny. But such inquiries are entirely reliant on organisations and individuals to assist them. This cannot be guaranteed, particularly where livelihoods, reputations, and even freedoms, are at stake. So they may fail where this doesn’t happen.
Non-statutory inquiries also don’t always give victims, their families, and the public, the assurances they need that the Government understands the gravity of what has happened. An example of this is non-statutory inquiry into the horrific abuse perpetrated by David Fuller – who sexually assaulted many dead bodies that were supposedly safe in a hospital mortuary. Ordered by the then Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, on 8th November 2021, its proceedings have been entirely behind closed doors and it has yet to report almost two years on.
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