Last edited 07 Feb 2021

Public inquiry

The Inquiries Act 2005 gives Ministers the power to establish public inquiries where it appears that:

  • particular events have caused, or are capable of causing, public concern, or
  • there is public concern that particular events may have occurred.

The scope of inquiries is set out in thier terms of reference.

Public inquiries are often chaired by a judge, but can be led by a single person or a panel. They will accept written or oral evidence to determine the facts of the case and whether action is necessary and can compel testimony under oath and require the release of evidence. They may also seek advice from experts.

They are generally ‘public’ but access may be restricted under certain circumstances.

Jason Beer QC, suggested that public inquiries should address three key questions:

  • What happened?
  • Why did it happen and who is to blame?
  • What can be done to prevent this happening again?

An inquiry report is published setting out findings and recommendations. These are not legally enforceable, but may be used to initiate criminal or civil proceedings.

Core participants who have a significant interest in an inquiry can be awarded funds for legal representation, and those representatives may be permitted to question witnesses.

On 16 June 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May announced a Public Inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire. For more information see: Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

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