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New regulation fails to boost credibility of independent public inquiries

Robert Kaye, ESRC Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation (CARR) at LSE, examines the government's recent Inquiries Bill and finds it a missed opportunity. His findings are published in the latest issue of CARR magazine Risk&Regulation, published this month (Monday 20 June).

Independent public inquiries play a vital regulatory and democratic function but recent reports such as the Hutton Report have highlighted deficiencies in the system. And the new Inquiries Bill does not solve issues of mistrust but opens the government up to more criticism.

There were several problems highlighted from past reports:

  • Chairs of inquiry panels are often faced with a dilemma in how to achieve an independent, credible ruling. As Lord Hutton's inquiry showed, a chair who sticks to the strict legalistic path may miss the point of the inquiry and be accused of a whitewash. But one that strays too far into policy considerations or issues of moral judgement is also open to outside criticism.
  • Technological developments and the increasing amount of material made available to the public also damages credibility. Opening such information up to the public undermines the inquiry's ability to deliver a definitive judgement, and allows the public to draw their own conflicting conclusions

But rather than address issues of mistrust that have arisen from recent independent inquiries, the Inquiries Bill, rushed through parliament before the general election, gives more power to ministers.

  • Inquiries into government are now conducted for government and report to government; Parliament has been sidelined.
  • Ministers have increased power, and can now control the budget and timing of publication, block evidence and dismiss members of the inquiry.
  • There is a clear opening for ministers to appoint sympathetic people to head inquiries
  • While these powers may not be used by governments, the act may damage public perception of all inquiries in the future

Robert Kaye is ESRC research officer at CARR, LSE.

Ends

PDFs for the articles are available on request. Contact:

Notes:

Risk&Regulation, Issue no.9, Summer 2005 is available in print and online,
http://www.lse.ac.uk/resources/riskAndRegulationMagazine/| 
If you wish to subscribe to the print version, please contact Sabrina Fernandez , tel: 020 7849 4635.

Risk&Regulation is the biannual magazine of the ESRC Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation (CARR). The magazine contains articles by leading scholars in the fields of risk and regulation and presents the latest research findings and commentary on risk and regulation related fields including managerial governance, financial control, utilities regulation, health, safety, and the environment.

The ESRC Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation (CARR) is an interdisciplinary research centre located at the London School of Economics and Political Science. CARR's research focuses on the comparative analysis of the organisational and institutional contexts of risk management and regulatory practice. In addition, CARR acts as a national and international hub for the field of risk and regulation studies through its outreach and visitors programmes.

30 June 2005

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