Involvement in Public Inquiries

13th January 2023

In our third article on public inquiries, we consider who is involved in a public inquiry, what it means to become a Core Participant and the process of becoming one.

Main Participants

The main participants to a public inquiry have their own distinct roles, rules and responsibilities.

The Chair, appointed by the Minister commissioning the inquiry, will run the inquiry and have ultimate responsibility for the conduct, procedural rules, protocols, publication and recommendations of the inquiry.

The Chair may act alone or have assistance from panel members and/or experts, who are also appointed by the Minister in order to ensure that the panel has the correct level of expertise.

The panel will be advised by counsel to the inquiry (likely to be more than one in a large-scale inquiry), who will also ensure the compliance and independence of the inquiry. A solicitor to the inquiry will also be appointed (likely to be a firm of solicitors in a large scale inquiry) who will be involved in various matters including drafting, gathering and reviewing evidence, dealing with any legal issues and applications, and drafting the final report alongside the Chair. The main participants are further supported by a secretary, assessors and administrative staff.

Witnesses of the matter to which the inquiry relates are generally required to provide written statements, oral evidence at an interview or hearing, and/or produce evidence. These matters will be looked at separately in another article in this series.

Unlike witnesses to an inquiry, Core Participants can make opening and closing submissions, have access to evidence deemed to be relevant to their participation, suggest lines of questioning and request questions to be put to witnesses during hearings, and obtain a copy of the inquiry’s report prior to it being made available to the public. As discussed in our last article, the level of a Core Participant’s involvement is also dependent on the structure that has been adopted by the inquiry.

Process of becoming a Core Participant

To become a Core Participant a party must apply to the Chair following an invitation for such an application to be made. Not every individual or organisation that applies will be granted Core Participant status.

When deciding whether to grant Core Participant status the Chair will have regard to Rule 5(2) of the Inquiry Rules 2006. This states that, when determining applications, the Chair must consider whether the applicant played or may have played a direct or significant role in the matter to which the inquiry relates, has a significant interest in an important aspect of the matter to which the inquiry relates, or may be subject to explicit or significant criticism during the inquiry proceedings or in any report.

Those who meet the above criteria will not automatically be granted Core Participant status, as the Chair has a wide discretion in considering applications.

Our next article in this series will consider the evidence involved in a public inquiry, including Rule 9 requests, Section 21 notices and sanctions for non-compliance. Look out for this in the insights section in the future. We gave an overview of public inquiries here and examined how they are structured here.

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