At 1930 on Monday the 24th of October 2011 Adam Burgess will introduce a discussion on Public Inquiries at the Perseverance, on Lamb's Conduit Street in Holborn (http://www.the-perseverance.moonfruit.com/)
The last 20 years have witnessed the meteoric rise of the Public Inquiry. 30 were ordered by British governments between 1990 and 2009. Whilst this sounds unremarkable, it was double the number that had been ordered throughout the rest of the 20th Century.
Their rise has been controversial. The Inquiries Act 2005 placed greater power in the hands of ministers to control the parameters of Inquiries, as well as enabling them to limit access to their findings. This raised concerns that the Act would lead to Inquiries becoming less transparent and less effective in ensuring accountability.
Others have suggested that Inquiries have become overburdened. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the motivation behind the ordering of an Inquiry was to guarantee independence where issues were raised as to the conduct of the establishment. Examples include the ad-hoc committee of Inquiry established in 1912 to investigate the Marconi Scandal, in which government ministers were accused of insider trading in an American communications company.
However, since the 1960s, Inquiries have increasingly addressed broader concerns around regulating risks to the public. This is illustrated by the enormous expansion of Inquiries into the healthcare and childcare sectors. The Bristol Inquiry of 1998 was described as the ‘widest ranging investigation into medical standards since the founding of the NHS’ and the Laming Inquiry had a significant impact on child protection policy following the murder of Victoria Climbie.
What is behind the rise of the Public Inquiry? Has there been a shift in their role in society? Do they allow the Judiciary to become too influential in political issues and is this a good thing? Are they a vital mechanism to ensure transparency or a symptom of a society obsessed with eliminating risk?
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