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."

Chambers UK 2022

“They are easy to get hold of, very agile and speak plainly about what outcomes are likely and what are reasonable, which is really helpful in delicate situations.”

Chambers UK 2022

"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

"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

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.

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 (a) you played a direct and significant role in the events under investigation, (b) you have a significant interest in the events, or (c) 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 engage fully in the process, for example, by making legal submissions. 

Protecting your interests during a public inquiry

We understand that you will have wider interests at stake, be they reputational, professional, commercial or financial, or engagement with particular interest groups, 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 to prepare your evidence, to ensuring you are ready to appear at a hearing, as well as taking care of your reputation throughout.

We have substantial experience of working with inquiry solicitors to ensure information/data protection rights are conserved. 

Meet our Public Inquiry team

Led by Sophie Kemp, and with partners Stephen ParkinsonAdam ChapmanEmily Carter and Nick Wrightson, our team draws on a deep pool of expertise in public inquiries that extends across the firm and includes members of our regulatory, dispute resolution, clinical negligence and criminal litigation teams. This allows us to deploy a substantial and truly experienced public inquiry team.

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

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 

 

5 Frequently asked questions regarding public inquiries

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 circumstances leading to the launch of a public inquiry are varied. Often, these will involve significant failures in public systems and services which could not be, or were not, resolved through existing processes. The purpose and scope of an inquiry is set out in its Terms of Reference, which will be drafted at the outset. A Chair, and sometimes a panel, will be appointed along with administrative and legal support.

 

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, such as compelling individuals or organisations to provide documents and other evidence (including in the form of a witness statement) to the inquiry. The inquiry can also require people to attend a public 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. 

 

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.

 

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

 

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 at inquiry hearings or publication of documents or evidence in very narrow circumstances where publication may cause harm or damage.

 

CLICK here to open the PDF for the FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS RELATING TO PUBLIC INQUIRIES

 

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

 

Latest blogs & news

Case Note - amenability to judicial review challenge: R (Taggart) v The Royal College of Surgeons [2022] EWHC 1141 (Admin)

The Administrative Court of England and Wales has recently considered whether the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS), when producing a report, under the ‘Invited Review Mechanism’ (IRM), could be challenged by way of judicial review.  The judgment of Mrs Justice Hill provides a helpful review of the relevant authorities and illustrates the limits of the judicial review jurisdiction – she concluded that a challenge could not be made.

The ICO’s Enforcement of the PECRs – what powers are at its disposal?

Complaining about a PECR breach to the ICO, especially about an unwanted marketing communication, is quick and easy for the affected person. Meanwhile for an organisation at the sharp end of a complaint, the PECRs enforcement regime is not straightforward to untangle. In this blog, we outline the ICO’s specific enforcement regime when investigating breaches of the PECRs.

The (Long) Covid Inquiry – the challenge of complying with Article 2 in timing the Covid Inquiry

The UK Covid-19 Inquiry has published its long awaited draft terms of reference, and a consultation on those proposed terms. The final terms of reference are of considerable importance to those taking an interest in the Inquiry, as set out here by Stephen Parkinson

Case Note: challenging consultations in judicial review proceedings - R (oao Binder and others) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2022] EWHC 105 (Admin)

The Administrative Court has recently upheld a challenge to a ‘consultation’ undertaken by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) prior to the publication of the National Disability Strategy. Strikingly the DWP gave evidence that it had not been intending to carry out a consultation – but Mr Justice Griffiths held that, as a matter of substance (as opposed to intention), there had in fact been a consultation; and that, (unsurprisingly as it was not a standard that it thought it had to meet) the DWP had failed to meet the legal requirements for a fair and adequate consultation.

 

The Covid-19 Inquiry: the Consultation on the Terms of Reference

In December 2021, the Prime Minister appointed Baroness Heather Hallett DBE as Chair of a statutory public inquiry into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic across the UK. The announcement concerning the inquiry stated that there would be a public consultation on the draft terms of reference. This blog discusses the likely approach and scope of that consultation.

Data Protection reform: A new direction for charities?

Following the UK’s departure from the EU, the Government wishes to reform the data protection legislation within this country in order to ‘unlock the power of data.’ For charities, does this mean the painful prospect of reworking their existing GDPR compliance regime or the promise of a lighter regulatory load?

Why Companies with Supply Chains in Xinjiang and China Need to Act Now

It’s a year since the UK Government announced business measures over human rights abuses in the Xinjiang province of China. In this piece we reflect on those measures and what might come next. We also look at what action prudent businesses should take now if they are concerned about products from Xinjiang in their supply chain, or how products they export to China are being used.

Data: A New Direction - Research, Re-use and Responsibility

High on the Government’s wish list for data protection reform is the reduction of legislative barriers to ‘responsible innovation,’ particularly within the field of scientific research. Due to perceived complexity and lack of clarity, it is feared that organisations either choose not to conduct research at all or rely on unnecessarily burdensome consent processes. This blog considers the likely impact of the Government’s ideas

Consultation on ICO Powers Shows the Breadth of the Regulator’s Powers

On 20 December 2021 the ICO launched a consultation seeking views on three documents, which together demonstrate its wide-ranging powers to undertake investigatory, regulatory and enforcement action.  

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.

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.

Public Law Insights

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Blogs

Can you refuse to give evidence to a public inquiry?

Essential Planning for the COVID Inquiry - Sophie Kemp provides insight for the Carer

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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