Holding other hearings

Holding a preliminary hearing

Despite its inquisitorial nature a public inquiry has some features in common with a court hearing.  In particular, legal representatives of witnesses and interested parties will have concerns over their role in the hearings, for example about whether they will be permitted to make opening or closing submissions.  Further, there may be issues about what is or is not relevant.  

Unlike court proceedings, however, there are no pleadings and there are no rules of procedure or of evidence.  It is now common for a public inquiry to draft and to publicise protocols for such matters as applying for anonymity and for giving evidence but nonetheless it is usually considered desirable to hold at least one preliminary hearing.   

The purpose of such a hearing is likely to be twofold.  Firstly, the Chairman can give an overarching introduction of the public inquiry and announce his intentions for the venue, dates and procedures of the full hearings.  Secondly, he can hear and resolve submissions, for example about sitting times.  Further, witnesses and interested parties may have submissions to make which are specific to them, for example for funding or for anonymity.  It may be apt to consider those at a preliminary hearing or that hearing can be used to give directions for how the issues are to be considered. 

Holding a public inquiry in phases

The normal procedure for a public inquiry is that it will hear the evidence and submissions that it is to receive and will then proceed to write and deliver its report. There may be a period between the conclusion of the evidence and the submissions stage. It may be desirable to have skeleton arguments for submissions or to have the submissions in writing.

However, it may be desirable to proceed with the evidence in discrete phases. In the Hutton Inquiry the terms of reference required the investigation to be conducted urgently, so the evidence was led in two stages. This first entailed adducing the broad evidence without putting to witnesses any contradictions between their testimony and that of other witnesses. The inquiry team then considered the results of that exercise and then in the second stage witnesses were recalled to deal with what had been learned in the first. In the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry there were two stages. The first dealt with the specific circumstances of the investigation of the Stephen Lawrences murder. The second considered what the evidence suggested about institutionalised racism in the Metropolitan Police.