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Expert blog: Why a statutory Letby Inquiry is favoured

Dr Emma Ireton, public inquiry expert at Nottingham Law School, explains the difference between a statutory and non-statutory inquiry - and why one may be preferred over the other.

Law concept of Judiciary, Jurisprudence and Justice
There are arguments for and against the use of both forms of inquiry

There are three key differences between inquiries convened under the Inquiries Act 2005, often referred to as ‘statutory inquiries’, and those that are convened outside the legislation, known as ‘non-statutory inquiries’.

The first is that inquiries convened under the 2005 Act have the power to compel the giving of evidence, including the power to compel witnesses to attend to give oral evidence, produce documents and provide a written statement. Non-statutory inquiries have to rely on the voluntary compliance of witnesses or on the coercive power of the press and public opinion.

Emma Ireton
Associate Professor Emma Ireton

The second is that the 2005 Act permits the chair to take evidence on oath, ensuring that anyone who gives false evidence could face criminal sanctions.

The third is that there is a presumption that inquiries convened under the 2005 Act will be heard in public.

There are arguments put forward for and against the use of both forms of inquiry.

Some argue that, for some inquiries, those statutory powers can create an overly formal or court-like adversarial process, which might deter people from coming forward to speak to the inquiry, or may increase the length and cost of an inquiry.

However, many argue that, because of those statutory powers, statutory inquiries are generally more effective than non-statutory inquiries, particularly where there may be a reluctance on the part of some witnesses to come forward and give evidence, and that there should generally be a presumption in favour of ministers convening inquiries under the 2005 Act.

In the case of the Lucy Letby Inquiry, there are very strong arguments in favour of the Letby Inquiry being a statutory inquiry and having powers of compulsion and to take evidence on oath.

Dr Emma Ireton, Associate Professor of Law, Nottingham Law School.

Read Dr Ireton's latest paper ‘Public Inquiries: irreconcilable interests and the importance of managing expectations’.

Published on 22 August 2023
  • Category: Press office; Nottingham Law School