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Public Inquiry Representation

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Public Inquiry Representation

In our work at Hudgell Solicitors we are instructed to represent people in cases of loss, injustice and tragedy. In many of these cases the circumstances warrant investigation much more far reaching than the impact on one individual or one family, as the events have wider ramifications for all. In such cases, the matter can result in a Public Inquiry being held.

In the UK, Public Inquiries are held where something has gone seriously wrong and thorough impartial investigation is required, separate to ordinary civil or criminal proceedings. This could be as a result of events such as major disasters or large scale loss of life, to examine the workings of public institutions, investigate serious health and safety issues which have occurred.

Transport accidents, fires, deaths in custody, outbreaks of disease, the actions of rogue health professionals and decision-making leading to wars have all been subject to Public Inquiries in recent times.

Essentially they are held to investigate three main questions; what happened, why did it happen and who was to blame?

Public Inquires also crucially seek to establish what lessons must be learned to bring about changes which can prevent the same thing happening again and is seen as a process through which the facts can be fully established.

They have the legal powers to compel witnesses to give evidence – including those who perhaps would not wish to have their actions examined and questioned in the glare of public scrutiny.

Recent and continuing Public Inquiries involving Hudgell Solicitors’ lawyers include;

Manchester Arena Bombing

This inquiry has been established to investigate how, and in what circumstances, 22 people came to lose their lives in the attack on the Manchester Arena on 22 May, 2017. It has the scope to ‘make any such recommendations as may seem appropriate.’ Our Civil Liberties Manager Vicky Richardson is instructed to represent the interests of the families of two of those who lost their lives in the attack.

Grenfell Tower Inquiry Logo

Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Split into two phases, this inquiry firstly sought to establish what took place at Grenfell Tower in London on the night of the fire, which caused the death of 72 people. This included the cause and origin of the fire, its subsequent development, the loss of life incurred and the response of the London Fire Brigade and other emergency services.

Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Established in the wake of serious high profile instances of non-recent child sexual abuse, and because the Government had concerns that some organisations were continuing to fail to protect children from sexual abuse. This Inquiry is examining what went wrong and why, and will seek to use its findings to make recommendations to help better protect children in the future. Senior Solicitor Malcolm Johnson is representing 9 Core Participants.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is a Public Inquiry established and who runs it?
Public inquiries are set up by the Government, under the Inquiries Act 2005 and the Inquiry Rules 2006. They can be led by one person or a panel, who take evidence in the form of documents and oral testimony regarding the events in question. Inquiries are often chaired by a currently serving or retired judge. Crucially, once they have been established, they are independent of the Government department.
How is it established what a Public Inquiry will cover?
One of the first stages of a Public Inquiry is setting out the ‘Terms of Reference’ or ‘scope’ of the Inquiry. This is a stage where legal representatives are often consulted as to what the Inquiry should cover. It will clarify the matters to be examined and the facts which need to be established. It will also set out whether the inquiry is to make any recommendations. Once this is agreed an inquiry has no power to act outside of its terms of reference.
How long will a Public Inquiry last?
Given the large amounts of documentation and evidence usually needing to be considered, Public Inquiries are not speedy processes and there is no set time frame to which they are required to be completed. Most take around two years to report back with findings but can take much longer.
Can a Public Inquiry lead to criminal prosecutions?
A Public Inquiry does not have the power to rule any individual civil or criminal liability but can make findings about credibility or events which could then lead to criminal or civil liability for those involved.
Who takes part in a Public Inquiry?
A person who has played a role in the matters being investigated, who might be criticised for their conduct, or has a ‘significant interest’ in them, can become a ‘core participant’ by the inquiry. Core participants – often those directly affected or families of loved ones - can be awarded funds to pay for legal representation, and their lawyers may be permitted to ask questions to other witnesses who give evidence.
How will I be represented at a Public Inquiry?
Our team at Hudgell Solicitors have represented at a number of Public Inquiries where public funding has been secured to enable victims and families to take part. We are committed ensuring our clients have the best legal representation and work to ensure funding is in place.
Can people refuse to take part?
No. The 2005 Act permits the compulsory provision of documents or the giving of oral evidence and to compel testimony and the release of other forms of evidence.

Comments from Vicky Richardson

Public Inquiries play a hugely influential role in ensuring vital lessons are learned from some of the most devastating events we see in our country.

They investigate the circumstances of disasters such as the Grenfell Tower and the Manchester Arena bombing whilst also examining how people have been let down through a lack of protection, such as inquiries into the historic abuse of children at organisations to the failings in health care, such as at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which found hundreds of hospital patients died needlessly as a result of substandard care and staff failings at two hospitals.

Of course, for many families affected by such events, the ability to see those they feel responsible fully questioned and held to account is of huge importance. Equally, a Public Inquiry is a process which can help rebuild public confidence after a major incident or failing, and lead to important changes being made to better protect us all in future years.

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