This research briefing examines one type of ‘public inquiry’ – statutory public inquiries held under the Inquiries Act 2005. It sets out how they are set up and run. It also gives information about current statutory inquiries. These include the UK Covid-19 inquiry and the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry.

What are ‘public inquiries’?

‘Public inquires’ are investigations set up by Government ministers to respond to events of major public concern or to consider controversial public policy issues.

The Cabinet Office advises ministers on establishing and running public inquiries (pdf).

As well as the statutory public inquiries discussed in this research briefing, the Government may set up other types of investigation, such as a non-statutory inquiry, a Royal Commission or a departmental inquiry.

There is more information about those approaches in the Commons Library research briefing Non-statutory public inquiries.

What’s different about statutory inquiries?

Statutory inquiries operate in line with the provisions of the Inquiries Act 2005 and the Inquiry Rules 2006. Arrangements are more strictly defined than in other types of inquiry. Statutory inquiries may for instance:

  • compel witnesses to provide evidence
  • provide certain legal safeguards
  • maintain clearer limits on the Government’s involvement

Some statutory inquiries, such as the Lampard Inquiry into mental health services in Essex and the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry– have been converted from non-statutory inquiries to help ensure engagement by potential witnesses. Others – such as the inquiry into the death of Jalal Uddin – are converted from inquests to enable proper consideration of otherwise confidential information.

By their nature, statutory inquiries are controversial. There are often questions about who should be the Chair, the terms of reference, the proposed budget and timetable, and the inquiry’s working methods.

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