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Public inquiries

Inquiries set up by government into matters of public importance are a key feature of UK political life. Their models have also been adopted by other jurisdictions across the world. The areas they cover range from tragic accidents to financial failures, state-sponsored terrorism and torture. Currently, in the UK, there are a number of public inquiries into sexual abuse of children, and failures in the health and social care systems.

Inquiries will often be highly sensitive, and necessitate investigation into government policy and direction. Security issues may also arise. Inquiries will often seek the truth as to what has happened in a given case and what recommendations should be made to avoid a repetition of past mistakes. Whatever your needs in this complex and sensitive area of law, Eversheds Sutherland is on hand to help.

Experienced public inquiries lawyers

Our Inquiries and Investigations practice is the first team to be established solely to act on behalf of government-sponsored public inquiries and the parties appearing before them. It has led the field since 1997 and includes many members with security clearance. We create teams that are specifically tailored to the matter under investigation. Our lawyers will usually be mobilized on short notice and will work from the location of the inquiry.

All team members, often up to 30 in number, are specifically trained in inquisitorial investigation techniques and provide a complete service, ranging from provision of relevant IT systems, design of hearing rooms, provision of interviewers, document managers, redactors and the provision of a secretariat to manage the inquiry’s relationship with participants and the public. Our services extend to management of hearings, the design and updating of websites and liaison with the press, public and witnesses.

We act for clients in the public and private sectors who are called upon to participate in public inquiries. This work includes advising on the remit of an inquiry, investigating a client’s potential exposure to matters that may expose the entity or individuals to criticism, managing the obtaining of evidence and advising on preparation to give evidence at hearings. This includes the giving of evidence to parliamentary select committees and other committees of inquiry.

We act for public sector bodies that wish to investigate internal concerns that may have wider public implications. Under the cloak of legal professional privilege, our lawyers are often asked to conduct investigations, report what has happened in a given case and advise on the steps necessary to avoid a repetition of past failures or to improve corporate governance. Eversheds Sutherland’s focus is both domestic and international. As such, our lawyers have advised public sector clients in the UK, Europe and Africa.

We have acted on behalf of the largest and highest-profile public inquiries established by the UK government. These include providing teams to run the following inquiries:

  • the Bloody Sunday inquiry, investigating shootings in Northern Ireland in 1972
  • the Shipman inquiry, investigating the patterns of activity of the murderer Harold Shipman, with a view to the chair reaching conclusions on the likely number of his victims
  • the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust inquiry, which remains the quickest public inquiry on record, with our work being completed within two years of instruction. This inquiry had a far-reaching impact on safety in the UK National Health Service, leading to major reforms in the sector. We also subsequently advised and lectured on issues of clinical governance and safety throughout Europe and in the U.S.
  • the Rosemary Nelson inquiry into allegations of state collusion in the 1999 murder in Northern Ireland of a prominent human rights lawyer
  • the independent Jersey care inquiry, which investigated abuse of children on the island of Jersey dating back to the 1940s . The report is to be published in early 2017

We have acted for clients appearing before the following inquiries:

  • the Leveson inquiry into regulation of the press and of police investigations into phone hacking
  • the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, which is already into its fourth chair, and is likely to run for many years before formulating its conclusions
  • the North Wales child abuse inquiry, which was one of the first public inquiries to highlight systemic failures in the handling of abuse by public bodies, including the police
  • The Baha Mousa inquiry, in which our lawyers were instructed by the UK Ministry of Defence to act for soldiers accused of having tortured prisoners in the Iraq

We have conducted many inquiries for public sector clients, including devolved government and local authorities, most of which are private in nature. In the public domain, however, is our involvement in so-called Trojan horse inquiry, which investigated allegations of radicalization of schools in Birmingham by extremists. We have also acted for several individuals and companies appearing before select committees of the UK parliament.

Contact our Public inquiries team

If you would like any further information or need advice on public inquiry law, please contact our legal team.