Determining the need for an inquiry

Naturally, the categories of events that may lead to the establishment of a public inquiry are not closed. Historically they have ranged from events which suggest a breakdown in the rule of law, such as the Scott Inquiry, through those which have caused a single death, such as the Victoria Climbié Inquiry, to matters that concern numerous deaths, such as the Shipman Inquiry or the Marchionness-Bowbell Inquiry. The common factor in every public inquiry is the pressing public concern that something has happened that must be investigated openly and fairly by a body that is independent of the problem.

Certain characteristics can be identified in those public inquiries that have taken place:

  • Widespread loss of life
  • Threats to public health or safety
  • Failure by the state in its duty to protect
  • Failure in regulation
  • Shocking events
This section discusses how policy makers have responded to the frequent calls for public inquiries, the practical advantages and disadvantages of the options available in responding and the legal obligations that constrain them.