Public inquiry

A tribunal of inquiry is an official review of events or actions ordered by a government body. In many common law countries, such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and Canada, such a public inquiry differs from a Royal Commission in that a public inquiry accepts evidence and conducts its hearings in a more public forum and focuses on a more specific occurrence. Interested members of the public and organisations may not only make (written) evidential submissions as is the case with most inquiries, but also listen to oral evidence given by other parties.

Typical events for a public inquiry are those that cause multiple deaths, such as public transport crashes or mass murders. In addition, in the UK, the Planning Inspectorate, an agency of the Department for Communities and Local Government, routinely holds public inquiries into a range of major and lesser land use developments, including highways and other transport proposals.

Advocacy groups and opposition political parties are likely to ask for public inquiries for all manner of issues. The government of the day typically only accedes to a fraction of these requests. The political decision whether to appoint a public inquiry into an event was found to be dependent on several factors. The first is the extent of media coverage of the event; those that receive more media interest are more likely to be inquired. Second, since the appointment of a public inquiry is typically made by government ministers, events that involve allegations of blame on the part of the relevant minister are less likely to be investigated by a public inquiry.[1] Third, a public inquiry generally takes longer to report and costs more on account of its public nature. Thus, when a government refuses a public inquiry on some topic, it is usually on at least one of these grounds.

The conclusions of the inquiry are delivered in the form of a written report, given first to the government, and soon after published to the public. The report will generally make recommendations to improve the quality of government or management of public organisations in the future. Recent studies have shown that the reports of public inquiries are not effective in changing public opinion regarding the event in question.[2] Moreover, public inquiry reports appear to enjoy public trust only when they are critical of the government, and tend to lose credibility when they find no fault on the part of the government.[3]


In France, any major project which requires the compulsory acquisition of private property must, before being approved, be the subject of a public inquiry (usually by the prefect of the region or department in which the project will take place); the favourable outcome of such an inquiry is a déclaration d'utilité publique, a formal finding that the project will produce public benefit. This procedure was established by the law on expropriation enacted on 7 July 1833,[4] which extended an earlier law enacted in 1810.[5]

Republic of IrelandEdit

South AfricaEdit

A number of historically important public inquiries have taken place in South Africa since the advent of full democracy in 1994. A number of which have looked into national scale events such as systematic human rights abuses during apartheid or wide scale corruption.

List of some public inquiries in South AfricaEdit

Inquiry name Announcement date Launch date Report date Chaired by Reason for inquiry
Goldstone Commission 24 October 1991 Richard Goldstone To investigate political violence and intimidation that occurred between July 1991 and the 1994 general election that ended apartheid in South Africa
Truth and reconciliation commission 1996 Archbishop Desmond Tutu Investigate, gather testimony and gain closure on instances of gross human rights abuses during apartheid.
The Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture 21 August 2018 Raymond Zondo Allegations of wide scale corruption and state capture of state entities and state owned enterprises during the administration of President Jacob Zuma.

United KingdomEdit

In Britain, there are two types of public inquiry, the statutory inquiry set out in terms of the Inquiries Act 2005 (or its predecessor), or the non-statutory inquiry, often used in order to investigate controversial events of national concern, the advantage being that they are more flexible, not needing to follow the requirements of the Inquiries Act.[6]

A statutory inquiry is usually chaired by a well-known and well-respected member of the upper echelons of British society, such as a judge, lord, professor or senior civil servant. Inquiries are often informally named after the chair of the inquiry, or the event that is the subject of the inquiry.

List of some public inquiries in the UKEdit

Inquiry name Announcement date Launch date Report date Chaired by Reason for inquiry
Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales 1847 1847 1847 The alleged poor state of education in Wales and the lack of education through the medium of English
Tay Bridge disaster The fall of the Tay bridge on 28 December 1879. An express train was lost as the bridge fell, killing 75 people. The inquiry found that the bridge had been "badly designed, badly built and badly maintained"
Lynskey tribunal 1948 Allegations of corruption in the Government and the civil service
Aberfan disaster inquiry Oct 1966 Aug 1967 Sir Herbert Edmund Davies A tip of coal waste slid into Pantglas Junior School in Aberfan, killing 144 on 21 October 1966. The inquiry blamed the disaster on the National Coal Board
The Widgery Tribunal 1972 Also concerned with the Bloody Sunday shootings
The Lane Inquiry 20 November 1972 14 April 1973 Mr Justice Lane The crash of British European Airways Flight 548 on 18 June 1972, known commonly as the "Staines Disaster"
The Sizewell B Inquiry 11 January 1983 13 January 1987 Sir Frank Layfield A proposal by the Central Electricity Generating Board to construct a pressurized water reactor nuclear power station at Sizewell, Suffolk.
The Public Inquiry into the Piper Alpha Disaster November 1988 November 1990 Lord Cullen The government inquiry into the Piper Alpha disaster of 6 July 1988
The May Inquiry 1989 Eventually transformed into the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice
The Public Inquiry into the Shootings at Dunblane Primary School on 13 March 1996 Mar 1996 Sep 1996 Lord Cullen The shootings at Dunblane Primary School by Thomas Hamilton on 13 March 1996
The Bloody Sunday Inquiry 1998 June 2010 Lord Saville "Bloody Sunday" – the killing of 14 people by soldiers of the Parachute Regiment in Derry, Northern Ireland on 30 January 1972.
The Bristol Inquiry October 1998 Jul 2001 Professor Sir Ian Kennedy Children's heart surgery carried out at the Bristol Royal Infirmary Hospital between 1984 and 1995
The Shipman Inquiry Sep 2000 Feb 2001 Jul 2002 Dame Janet Smith An investigation into the issues surrounding the case of mass murderer Harold Shipman
Ladbroke Grove Rail Inquiry Jul 2000 Lord Cullen Rail crash outside Paddington station in October 1999
Laming Inquiry May 2001[7] Jan 2003 Lord Laming An investigation into the circumstances surrounding the murder of Victoria Climbié
Hutton Inquiry
"Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Death of Dr David Kelly C.M.G."
Aug 2003 Sep 2003 Jan 2004 Lord Hutton of Bresagh The circumstances surrounding the suicide of weapons of mass destruction expert David Kelly
Fraser Inquiry 15 September 2004 Construction of the late and overbudget Scottish Parliament Building
The Rosemary Nelson Inquiry 1 October 2001 16 November 2004[8] 23 May 2011 Murder of Rosemary Nelson, a prominent Irish human rights solicitor
Robert Hamill Inquiry Nov 2004 Sir Edwin Jowitt The Inquiry was established to investigate the death of Robert Hamill, following an incident in Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland on 27 April 1997.[9]
The ICL Inquiry (joint inquiry) Jan 2008 Jul 2008 Lord Gill Explosion at ICL plastics factory in Glasgow, May 2004, killing 9 and injuring 33
Fingerprint Inquiry Jun 2009 Sir Anthony Campbell "The steps taken to verify the fingerprints associated with the case of the Lord Advocate v Shirley McKie in 1999, and related matters"[10]
The Public Inquiry into the September 2005 Outbreak of E.coli O157 in South Wales 19 March 2009 Professor Hugh Pennington "The circumstances that led to the outbreak of E.coli O157 infection in South Wales in September 2005, and into the handling of the outbreak; and to consider the implications for the future and make recommendations accordingly"[11]
Al-Sweady Inquiry 2009 December 2014 Sir Thayne Forbes Allegations that British service personnel had murdered and ill-treated detainees in Iraq in 2004
The Iraq Inquiry 15 June 2009 30 July 2009 6 July 2016 Sir John Chilcot "To identify the lessons to be learnt from the Iraq conflict"[12]
The Leveson Inquiry 13 July 2011[13] 14 November 2011[14] 29 November 2012[15] Lord Justice Leveson An inquiry "into the culture, practices and ethics of the press"[16] in light of the issues surrounding the News International phone hacking scandal
Grenfell Tower Inquiry[note 1] 15 June 2017 14 September 2017[18] Sir Martin Moore-Bick[19] Establish the facts of what happened at Grenfell Tower to prevent it happening again[19]
The Infected Blood Inquiry 11 July 2017[20] 2 July 2018[21] Sir Brian Langstaff[22] To examine the circumstances in which men, women and children treated by national Health Services in the United Kingdom were given infected blood and infected blood products, in particular since 1970.[23]
Manchester Arena Inquiry 22 October 2019 7 September 2020 Sir John Saunders The Inquiry investigates the deaths of the victims of the 2017 Manchester Arena attack.[24]

Hong KongEdit

In Hong Kong, the Commissions of Inquiry Ordinance was enacted for establishing such a commission. The commission established after the 2012 Lamma Island ferry collision produced a report of its findings which they made public; an internal report was kept confidential.[25] In the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests, one of the five key demands of the protesters, was establishing another commission for the protests itself.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ In June 2017 an online petition was started calling for the Grenfell Tower fire to be investigated by an inquest, rather than a public inquiry.[17]


  1. ^ Sulitzeanu-Kenan, R. 2010. Reflection in the Shadow of Blame: When do Politicians Appoint Commissions of Inquiry?, British Journal of Political Science 40(3): 613-634.
  2. ^ Sulitzeanu-Kenan, R & Y. Holzman-Gazit. 2016. Form and Content: Institutional Preferences and Public Opinion in a Crisis Inquiry, Administration & Society 48(1): 3-30.
  3. ^ Sulitzeanu-Kenan, Raanan (2006). "If They Get It Right: An Experimental Test of the Effects of the Appointment and Reports of UK Public Inquiries". Public Administration. 84 (3): 623–653. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9299.2006.00605.x.
  4. ^ Loi du 7 juillet 1833 sur l'expropriation pour cause d'utilité publique
  5. ^ Loi du 8 mars 1810 sur l'expropriation pour cause d'utilité publique
  6. ^ Caird, Jack Simson (1 July 2016). "Public Inquiries: non-statutory commissions of inquiry". Parliament of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 17 July 2018.
  7. ^ "Victoria Climbie Inquiry - News Update". Government of the United Kingdom. Archived from the original on 30 January 2013.
  8. ^[bare URL]
  9. ^ "The Robert Hamill Inquiry".
  10. ^ "The Fingerprint Inquiry Scotland". Archived from the original on 15 June 2009.
  11. ^ "E.coli Public Inquiry". Archived from the original on 13 January 2010. Retrieved 21 December 2009.
  12. ^ "The Iraq Inquiry".
  13. ^ "Opening remarks". Leveson Inquiry website, about the inquiry. Leveson Inquiry. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
  14. ^ "Leveson inquiry into press ethics begins". Channel 4 News, Monday 14 November 2011. Channel 4 News. 14 November 2011. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
  15. ^ "An inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press: report [Leveson]". UK Government official documents website. The National Archives. Retrieved 30 November 2011.
  16. ^ "Process". Leveson Inquiry: About. Leveson Inquiry. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
  17. ^ Roberts, Rachel (16 June 2017). "Grenfell Tower fire: Thousands demand Theresa May hold inquest instead of inquiry amid 'whitewash' fears". The Independent. Retrieved 19 July 2017.
  18. ^ "Grenfell Tower fire: Inquiry 'can and will provide answers'". BBC. 14 September 2017. Retrieved 31 May 2018.
  19. ^ a b "Grenfell Tower Fire Written Statement". UK Parliament Official Website. Retrieved 29 June 2017.
  20. ^ "Contaminated blood scandal inquiry announced". BBC. 11 July 2017. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  21. ^ "Infected Blood Inquiry: The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office (Mr David Lidington)". UK Parliament Commons Hansard. 2 July 2018. Retrieved 7 May 2020. The terms of reference have been published and deposited in the Libraries of both Houses today. The inquiry can now formally begin its work; it will start today—2 July 2018.
  22. ^ "Government announces Mr Justice Langstaff will lead inquiry into the infected blood scandal". The Cabinet Office. 8 February 2018. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  23. ^ "Terms of Reference" (PDF). Infected Blood Inquiry. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  24. ^ "About - Manchester Arena Inquiry".
  25. ^ 南丫海難6周年 家屬失望調查報告仍未公開. (in Chinese). Hong Kong: Oriental Press Group. 25 September 2012. Retrieved 4 November 2019.

External linksEdit