Public Inquiries

Specialist public inquiry solicitors representing individuals, public figures and organisations.

"Legal advice is always given with an awareness and deep experience of the wider legal context (in our case, public inquiries) and a sensitivity to the client’s objectives.”

Legal 500 UK 2021

Our team is consistently recognised for its public inquiry expertise, with over twenty five years of experience representing individuals, public figures and organisations in all major inquiries.

What is a public inquiry?

A public inquiry is set up to address significant public concern about major events in order to learn the facts of what happened, as well as lessons for the future. They are high profile, emotionally charged and the focus of intense media scrutiny. Appearing before one can be a daunting experience, whether you are an individual, senior professional, public official, major corporation or public sector body. For further information on the Covid-19 Public Inquiry, please see our dedicated Covid-19 Public Inquiry webpage.

Being a witness or core participant in a public inquiry

You may be asked by the inquiry to provide evidence as a witness. You may also apply to be designated a core participant if you played a direct and significant role in the events under investigation, you have a significant interest in the events, or if you face potential criticism when the inquiry publishes its final report. Being a core participant may mean that you face greater scrutiny, but you will have the advantage of being able to access the inquiry’s evidence and engaging fully in the hearings. 

Protecting your interests during a  public inquiry

We understand that you will have wider interests at stake, be they reputational, professional, commercial or financial, and we can carefully help you chart a course which focuses on those concerns, alongside the immediate demands of the inquiry.  

We will work very closely with you to gain complete insight into your situation from the outset. The breadth of our expertise means that you can be confident that your interests are taken care of; from initial contact with the inquiry and assisting you prepare your evidence to ensuring you are ready to appear at a hearing, as well as taking care of your reputation management needs throughout.

Public inquiry solicitors

Led by Adam Chapman, Stephen ParkinsonEmily Carter and Sophie Kemp, our expertise in public inquiries extends across the firm and includes members of our dispute resolution, clinical negligence, and criminal litigation teams, allowing us to resource a substantial and truly experienced public inquiry team

Our public inquiry solicitors have acted, in particular representing core participants and key witnesses, in many of the major inquiries of our recent years. Currently, we are acting for clients in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and the Undercover Policing.

RECENT PUBLIC INQUIRIES CASES

  • The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse
  • The Undercover Policing Inquiry
  • Independent Inquiry into the issues raised by Ian Paterson
  • The Grenfell Tower Inquiry
  • The Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry (Northern Ireland)
  • The Iraq Inquiry: Sir John Chilcott’s inquiry to identify lessons to be learnt from the Iraq conflict 
  • The Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Inquiry into the role of monitoring, supervisory and regulatory bodies in the failings of this NHS Trust
  • Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry investigating the culture, practices and ethics of the press
  • The Baha Mousa Public Inquiry: Sir William Gage’s inquiry into the mistreatment of detainees in Iraq 
  • Sir Michael Bichard’s inquiry into child protection procedures in Humberside Police and Cambridgeshire Constabulary further to the deaths of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells 
  • Lord Butler’s inquiry into the intelligence which the British government had about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction 
  • Lord Hutton’s inquiry investigating the death of Dr David Kelly 
  • Sir Michael Peat’s inquiry into alleged misconduct within the royal household after the collapse of the Paul Burrell trial 
  • The Equitable Life Inquiry: Lord Penrose’s inquiry into the problems at Equitable Life 
  • The Shipman Inquiry: Dame Janet Smith’s inquiry into the activities of Harold Shipman 
  • The Marchioness Inquiry: Lord Justice Clarke’s inquiry into the circumstances of the Marchioness disaster 
  • The BSE Inquiry: Lord Phillip’s inquiry into the spread of BSE (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in the UK 
  • The Bloody Sunday Inquiry: Lord Saville’s inquiry into the events in Derry on Sunday 30 January 1972 

 

Frequently asked public inquiry questions

1. How is a public inquiry established?

A Government minister may establish a statutory public inquiry following events of public concern. A non-statutory inquiry may be established by any individual or organisation, but will not have the powers available to a statutory inquiry.  

The actual circumstances leading to a public inquiry being established are varied, but often these will involve significant failures in systems and services which cannot or have not been reviewed or resolved through existing processes. Terms of reference will be drafted setting out the ambit of the Inquiry’s investigation. A Chair, and sometimes a panel, will be appointed, along with administrative and legal support. 

2. What powers does a public inquiry have to compel the provision of evidence?

A statutory public inquiry has a range of powers available to it, including compelling individuals or organisations to provide documents and other evidence (including in the form of a witness statement) to the inquiry, as well as attending the hearing to provide oral evidence. It is a criminal offence not to comply with a statutory notice from the Inquiry or to otherwise distort, supress, conceal, alter, destroy evidence, or otherwise prevent relevant evidence from being given. 

3. What is the outcome of a public inquiry?

A report will be published at the conclusion of a public inquiry setting out the summary of the Inquiry’s factual findings based on the evidence gathered during the course of the investigation. The published report will also include a set of recommendations. These have no binding force and the extent to which they will be subsequently implemented will depend on a number of factors. Interim report(s) may also be published at appropriate intervals. 

4. Will you  be warned if you are to be criticised in a public inquiry?

If any individual or organisation is to be criticised in the inquiry proceedings or any report, they are usually informed prior to the criticism being made public.  When drafting the report, individuals and organisations are given an opportunity to make representations concerning any proposed criticisms of them. An inquiry does not have powers to determine the civil or criminal liability of any individual or organisation.

5. How much of a public inquiry is in the public domain?

The Chair of a statutory public inquiry must ensure that members of the public and the press can attend (or otherwise view) the hearings, and access documents and a record of oral evidence provided to the Inquiry. In practice, most public inquiries will have a comprehensive website upon which relevant documentary evidence will be published, along with links to live video footage of the oral evidence given during hearings.  The final and interim reports will also be published. 

In a statutory public inquiry, restrictions may be imposed upon attendance by the public to inquiry hearings or publication of documents or evidence in very narrow circumstances where publication may cause harm or damage. 

 

What directories have said about us

Extensive experience of high-profile public inquiries."

Legal 500 UK, 2019

Experience, willingness to challenge and be challenged, understanding of legislation, regulations and drafting skills."

Chambers UK, A Client's Guide to the UK Legal Profession, 2018

Sources praise the group's abilities in 'sensitive, high-profile, politically inflected work' and attest that 'what is really refreshing is their commitment to their clients and the care they take'..."

Chambers UK, A Clients Guide to the UK Legal Profession

Clients are ‘very impressed with the degree of care’ Kingsley Napley LLP has in handling judicial reviews, public inquiries, inquests and regulatory matters."

Legal 500 UK 2017

A real diversity of work. They benefit from experience acting for individuals, companies and public bodies, which gives them a depth and gravitas that sets them apart. Also, they are very friendly and down to earth individuals."

Chambers UK, A Clients Guide to the UK Legal Profession, 2017

 

Knowledgeable, responsive, thoughtful, professional, well networked and well connected, with a touch of elegance which goes beyond what one normally encounters in a legal firm.”

Legal 500 UK 2021

They are outstanding; they combine high-level legal skills with real human understanding."

Chambers UK 2021 

The team is small but packs a punch well above its size: they are quick, flexible, continuously on the ball and efficient.”

Legal 500 UK 2021

Latest blogs & news

The Terms of Reference for the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry

As we await the publication of the terms of reference for the UK wide Covid-19 Inquiry, in this blog I consider the key features of the recently published terms of reference for the Scottish Inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Covid-19 Inquiry – the importance of the terms of reference

Any day now the Covid-19 Inquiry will publish draft terms of reference. This will be a significant event.  Once agreed, the terms of reference will determine the scope and length of the inquiry which is due to begin its work in the Spring.  In turn this will have a direct impact on how valuable the inquiry turns out to be.  

Data: A new direction - Access to personal data

In this blog series, we will review the key proposals for reform of data protection law within the Government’s consultation paper ‘Data: A New Direction’. We will consider how far the Government will stray from the current path and signpost some potential pitfalls and practicalities for consideration along the way

The right to equality in fertility treatment

A same-sex couple have commenced a significant test case against a branch of the NHS fertility sector for discrimination against them on grounds of their sexuality. 

Court considers that intransigent public inquiry witnesses will often give evidence once they have been compelled to attend

In a 16 November 2021 blog, I described how refusing to give evidence to a public inquiry might play out. Another new case, Chairman of the Manchester Arena Inquiry v Romdhan [2021] EWHC 3274 (Admin), reinforces my view. Potential witnesses in next year’s coronavirus (Covid-19) inquiry take note.

 

Data: A New Direction - Unleashing the transformational power AI?

In this blog series, we will review the key proposals for reform of data protection law within the Government’s consultation paper ‘Data: A New Direction’. We will consider how far the Government will stray from the current path and signpost some potential pitfalls and practicalities for consideration along the way.

High Court imposes positive operational duties on state authorities in environmental pollution context

On Thursday 16 September 2021 in the High Court, Fordham J handed down judgment in R (on the application of Richards) v Environment Agency and Walleys Quarry Limited [2021] EWHC 2501 (Admin) (“Richards”). The High Court declared that positive operational duties were triggered on the Environment Agency (“EA”) under the European Convention of Human Rights Act (“ECHR”): Article 2 right to life and Article 8 right to respect for private and family life. For the Environment Agency to comply with its operational duties, the Declaration identified that the EA must implement Public Health England (“PHE”) recommendations and advice regarding the dangerous hydrogen sulphide emissions emanating from a landfill site.

The Judicial Review and Courts Bill: Proposed reform of Judicial Review

Attempts to narrow the scope of judicial review have long been on the Conservative Party’s political agenda. Following the Independent Review of Administrative Law (‘IRAL’) and the subsequent government consultation on reform of judicial review, the then Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland, introduced the Judicial Review and Courts Bill (‘the Bill’) to the House of Commons on 21 July 2021. The Bill is making its way through Parliament and is currently at the committee stage.

As we highlighted in our earlier blog following the Bill’s announcement, the proposed reforms are, at first sight, milder than had been feared. Nevertheless, the Bill proposes to make significant amendments to the remedies available in judicial review proceedings and to also limit the court’s jurisdiction.

Data protection law reform: A new direction?

In this blog series, we will review the key proposals for reform of data protection law within the Government’s consultation paper ‘Data: A New Direction’. We will consider how far the Government will stray from the current path and signpost some potential pitfalls and practicalities for consideration along the way.

We begin with the Government’s proposals for creating a ‘whitelist’ of legitimate interests which always provide a lawful basis for processing under the UK GDPR. 

Can you refuse to give evidence to a public inquiry?

Individuals asked to give evidence to public inquiries often wonder whether they really have a choice. The case of Chairman of the Manchester Arena Inquiry v Taghdi [2021] EWHC 2878 (Admin) illustrates how refusing to participate might play out. Potential witnesses in next year’s coronavirus (Covid-19) inquiry take note.

Having our cake and eating it: Parliamentary sovereignty in light of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic

One of the key themes of the Brexit campaign was for the UK to retain Parliamentary sovereignty, or “Take Back Control.” This blog focuses on that aspect of Brexit and revisits previous discussions around delegated legislation and Parliamentary sovereignty to assess the effect of the past 9 months on our Parliament.

Reform of the Human Rights Act: The Lord Chancellor’s “mechanism” to correct judgements

At the recent Conservative party conference, the new Lord Chancellor, Dominic Raab, signalled his intention to “overhaul” the Human Rights Act 1998 (the ‘Act’). It has since been reported that he is working on a “mechanism” to allow the Government to introduce ad hoc legislation to correct court judgements that ministers believe to be incorrect. Whilst the precise details of any mechanism remain to be seen, this notion is constitutionally problematic in that it potentially grants the executive wide powers to override the judiciary.

Preparation for Public Inquiries - Webinar Summary

In light of the announcement that an independent inquiry into the Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic will begin in spring 2022, Kingsley Napley hosted a webinar last week on the theme of Preparing for Public Inquiries in conjunction with Blackstone Chambers and FTI Consulting. For anyone who missed this event, a recording is available here (LINK) and we have also prepared the summary below.  

Essential Planning for the COVID Inquiry

Given a judge-led inquiry into how the Scottish Government handled the COVID pandemic will start before the end of this year, many are anxiously awaiting news of the Government’s promised UK- wide public inquiry.

Back in May 2021, No 10 committed to that inquiry starting in Spring 2022. Yet months on, details are scant. Who will Chair it? What are its terms of reference? Yes, there may be six months to go, but vital questions remain before any inquiry of this national significance and stature begins.

What is Next for GDPR in the UK, is Change on the Horizon?

The General Data Protection Regulation (known to everyone as the GDPR) is probably the most famous piece of legislation to come from the EU. It was and is incredibly ambitious in its scope, and shapes the way we engage with organisations both online and in the real world. When the UK formally withdrew from the EU, GDPR became retained EU law and continued to apply as before. The government have recently announced that they want to reform data protection legislation, but substantial deregulation might be an unrealistic ambition.

Case Note – challenging the Court’s jurisdiction in judicial review proceedings: R (Girgis) v Joint Committee on Intercollegiate Examinations [2021] EWHC 2256 (Admin)

The Administrative Court of England & Wales has recently considered a challenge to its jurisdiction to hear a judicial review claim on the basis (asserted by the defendant) that the claim should be heard at the Court of Session in Scotland. As explained below, the challenge was unsuccessful, but the case is interesting not just because of the Court’s conclusion on the substantive issue but also because of His Honour Judge Simon’s approach to the “technical” (procedural) issues the case gave rise to.

New guidance encourages judicial review practitioners to be concise, succinct and prepared

Earlier this year, changes to Practice Direction 54A (covering judicial review) and 54B (covering urgent applications) came into effect. This blog will consider the impact that the changes have had on the procedure for judicial review, before turning to a recent example of the perils of failing to follow the rules.

Can you devise an effective ouster clause to exclude a category of decision making from judicial review?

The Judicial Review and Courts Bill contains a new ‘ouster clause’ designed to prevent judicial review of the Upper Tribunal’s decisions on certain applications for permission to appeal against decisions of the First-Tier Tribunal. This blog explores why drafting legislation to restrict judicial review is so difficult.

The UK Supreme Court has confirmed the principles for judicial review of policies

R (A) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2021] UKSC 37 and R (BF (Eritrea) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2021] UKSC 38

Two linked Supreme Court judgments provide a reminder to claimants that challenges to policies should focus on whether the policies authorise or approve violations of the law. The court acknowledges that policies are issued to promote practical objectives and the standards set for reviewing them must not be unduly demanding.

Case Note – costs of interested parties in judicial review proceedings: CPRE Kent v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government UK/SC 2019/0174

The Supreme Court has, unusually, recently heard, and now delivered judgment on, an appeal concerning costs in statutory appeal and judicial review cases.  It is unusual for costs issues to be considered significant enough to merit consideration by the Supreme Court and, not least given the outcome of the appeal – and of course it is easy to be wise after the event – it is something of a surprise that permission to appeal was granted in the first place.

Public Law Insights

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Blogs

Can you refuse to give evidence to a public inquiry?

Essential Planning for the COVID Inquiry

The future public inquiry into COVID-19

“WhatsApp” with Dominic Grieve’s motion for Brexit communications?

The suspension of parliament increases legal scrutiny of Brexit – and possibly a public inquiry?

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