0370 270 6000

already registered?

Please sign in with your existing account details.

need to register?

Register to access exclusive content, sign up to receive our updates and personalise your experience on brownejacobson.com.

Privacy statement - Terms and conditions

Forgotten your password?

Public inquiries - given their cost, what’s the evidence they achieve their aims?

24 May 2018

Yesterday saw the publication of a report on this question by the National Audit Office (NAO). It observed that the government has spent more than £200 million on 26 Inquiries that have been established and reported since 2005.

The NAO’s investigation focused on 10 of the 26 statutory and non-statutory inquiries that fell into this category, looking at:

  • the frameworks for establishing and managing inquiries
  • the cost, duration and scale of them
  • how inquiries are managed in practice.

It observed that public confidence in Inquiries may be affected by such issues as:

  • the choice of chair and the terms of reference (the latter being an area in which we have seen the most difficulties arise)
  • the cost
  • the time taken for the Inquiry to conclude
  • the extent to which government addresses the findings of the Inquiry.

It observed that non-statutory inquiries in particular are not bound by procedural rules and, whilst they have greater flexibility, they do not have the same powers as statutory Inquiries. Crucially, they do not have the power to compel witnesses to attend or to require the release of documents. This can affect their remit and must be taken into account when drafting the term of reference.

The NAO observed that not all inquiries make recommendations, and government is under no obligation to accept those that are made or explain the reasoning behind its decision. In those circumstances, the question must arise for taxpayers as to what value an Inquiry adds. The NAO observed that eight of the 10 inquiries they reviewed made a total of 620 recommendations, of which approximately 45% were accepted by the government, a further 33% were “accepted in principle”, “partially accepted” or “subject to wider reform”. Finally, it observed that there was no organisation across government or parliament with responsibility for monitoring and tracking whether recommendations are being implemented, and ensuring that Inquiries have their intended impact.

It follows that any organisations being asked to engage in statutory Inquiries, or considering whether to commence a non-statutory inquiry of their own, need to take these issues into account, ensuring in particular that:

  • the terms of reference are clear, and achievable – taking into account both what they can and can’t do
  • in a multidisciplinary environment, the level of commitment and funding partners and stakeholders may have to accepting, engaging with and responding to both the Inquiry process itself and any likely recommendations
  • the likely budget, both for running the Inquiry itself and for implementing any recommendations that arise as a result.

Although very variable legal fees are cited as the largest item of expenditure overall. It is clear that setting the terms of reference properly with reference to the budget and taking into account the factors listed above, will go some way to keeping those proportionate and to a minimum – freeing up Inquiry resources to be applied elsewhere.

Related opinions

Personal injury reforms delay

In May 2018 I prepared a blog entitled ‘small claims u-turn?’ after the Justice Select Committee called on the government to put the ex-Chancellor George Osborne’s plans to raise the small claims limit for personal injury claims and prohibit awards of general damages for minor soft tissue injuries on hold whilst the past five years of reforms are evaluated.

View blog

Risk warning: independent contractors

Various Claimants v Barclays Bank is a claim in vicarious liability arising from sexual assaults perpetrated by an independent doctor conducting health examinations on employees and prospective employees of Barclays Bank, on the bank’s behalf.

View blog

Vicarious liability and independent contractors

The Court of Appeal’s judgment in the case of Barclays Bank plc and Various Claimants has been handed down.

View blog

Mailing list sign up

Select which mailings you would like to receive from us.

Sign up