A Tribunal of Inquiry is an official review of events or actions ordered by a government body in Common Law countries such as the United Kingdom, Ireland or Canada. Such a public inquiry differs from a Royal Commission in that a public inquiry accepts evidence and conducts its hearings in a more public forum and focuses on a more specific occurrence. Interested members of the public and organisations may not only make (written) evidential submissions as is the case with most inquiries, but also listen to oral evidence given by other parties.
Typical events for a public inquiry are those that cause multiple deaths, such as public transport crashes or mass murders. However, in the UK, the Planning Inspectorate, an agency of the Department for Communities and Local Government, routinely holds public inquiries into a range of major and lesser land use developments, including highways and other transport proposals.
Advocacy groups and opposition political parties are likely to ask for public inquiries for all manner of issues. The government of the day typically only accedes to a fraction of these requests. A public inquiry generally takes longer to report and costs more on account of its public nature. Thus when a government refuses a public inquiry on some topic, it is usually on these grounds.
The conclusions of the inquiry are delivered in the form of a written report, given first to the government, and soon after published to the public. The report will generally make recommendations to improve the quality of government or management of public organisations in the future.
Tribunals of Inquiry in the Republic of Ireland 
In the Republic of Ireland, public inquiries (Irish: fiafrai poiblí), known popularly as tribunals (binse breithimh), have become much used in recent years. While they have been the subject of many dramatic revelations in Irish politics, they have also become known for running long beyond their intended length – the extreme case being the Mahon Tribunal (previously the Flood Tribunal) which began in 1997 and issued its final report on 22 March 2012.
Inquiries in the Republic of Ireland are governed under Section 1 of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act of 1921, as amended. The 1921 Act, being a UK statute enacted before the setting up of the Irish Free State, continues to apply for the time being in the Republic of Ireland. It has, however, been amended since by several Acts of the Oireachtas. The chair of the inquiry is mandated by the Oireachtas (following resolutions in both the Dáil and the Seanad) to carry out the inquiry into matters of urgent public importance by a Warrant of Appointment. The terms of reference of the inquiry are given as part of that warrant.
Tribunals of Inquiry are established by the Oireachtas where the evidence of malfeasance might not be enough to secure a criminal conviction, but where public policy requires answers. Critics of the system say that tribunals: are relatively toothless; may give witnesses immunity that they would not obtain from a court; allow legal representation to all parties, resulting in a higher final cost to the State than the cost of the original malfeasance; and that they can delay difficult political decisions.
Tribunals of Inquiry are invested with the powers, privileges and rights of the Irish High Court. It is not a function of a Tribunal to administer justice, their work is solely inquisitorial. Tribunals are required to report their findings to the Oireachtas. They have the power to enforce the attendance and examination of witnesses and the production of relevant documents. Tribunals may consist of one or more persons, though the practise has been to appoint a Sole Member. Tribunals may sit with or without Assessors (who are not Tribunal members). Sittings are usually held in public but can, at the Tribunal's discretion, be held in private.
Tribunals can also award damages in a series of similar and uncontested cases, such as the Irish Army deafness claims that ran on for over a decade.
List of Irish public inquiries 
The following is a list:
- 1926: Retail prices of articles in general consumption
- 1926: Ports and Harbours
- 1928: Shooting of Timothy Coughlin
- 1929: Whether mixture of maize meal and maize products with home-grown cereals would be in the national interest
- 1930: Marketing of butter
- 1933: Pig production
- 1934: Grading etc. of Fruit and Vegetables
- 1935: Town Tenants
- 1936: Pearse Street Fire
- 1938: Public Transport
- 1943: Fire at St. Josephs Orphanage, Cavan
- 1944: Dealings in Great Southern Railway Stocks between 1 January 1943 and 18 November 1943
- 1946: Allegations concerning Parliamentary Secretary
- 1947: Disposal of Distillery of John Locke and Co. Ltd., Kilbeggan
- 1957: Cross Channel Freight Rates
- 1967: Death of Liam O'Mahony in Garda custody
- 1969: "Seven Days" Television programme on illegal moneylending
- 1975: Allegations made by two Members in the Dáil against the Minister For Local Government
- 1979: Costello Inquiry into the Whiddy Island Disaster
- 1981: Tribunal of Inquiry into the Stardust Disaster
- 1984: The Kerry Babies Tribunal to determine the cause of death/connection between the bodies of two babies found within a short period of time in County Kerry
- 1991: Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Industry, chaired by Mr Justice Liam Hamilton, the Beef Tribunal
- 1997: Tribunal of Inquiry into Payments to Politicians by Ben Dunne – the McCracken Tribunal.
- 1997–2011: Tribunal of Inquiry (Dunnes Payments) (follow-up), the Moriarty Tribunal
- 1997–2012: Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, now known as The Mahon Tribunal
- 1996-99: Lindsay Tribunal to investigate the infection of haemophiliacs with HIV and Hepatitis C from contaminated blood products.
- 2002–2006: Tribunal of Inquiry into the siege and shooting of John Carthy in Abbeylara, County Longford, the Barr Tribunal
- 2002–2008: Tribunal of Inquiry into complaints concerning some Gardaí of the Donegal Division, the Morris Tribunal
- 2005–ongoing: Commission of Investigation: Dublin and Monaghan Bombings 1974 (Sole Member: Patrick MacEntee SC QC)
- 2005: the Travers Report into overcharging of fees at some nursing homes. Between refundable fees and legal costs the Tribunal's findings would cost €500 million.
- 2005: the Ferns Report on clerical sexual abuse in the Irish Catholic Diocese of Ferns, County Wexford
- 2005- : the Smithwick Tribunal, investigating whether Irish officials assisted in the deaths of two RUC officers in 1989
- 2008: the Baker-Tilly Report into procurement practices at Córas Iompair Éireann
- 2000–2009 The Ryan Report (CICA) on child abuse at religiously run institutions
- 2006–2009: The Murphy Report on the Sexual abuse scandal in Dublin archdiocese
United Kingdom 
List of some public inquiries in the UK 
|Inquiry name||Announcement date||Launch date||Report date||Chaired by||Reason for inquiry|
|Treachery of the Blue Books||1847||The poor state of education in Wales|
|Lynskey tribunal||1948||Allegations of corruption in the Government and the civil service|
|Aberfan disaster inquiry||Oct 1966||Aug 1967||Sir Herbert Edmund Davies||The tipping of coal waste to slide into Pantglas Junior School in Aberfan, killing 144 on 21 October 1966. The inquiry represents something of a watershed, particularly into inquiries related to coal-mining disasters. Prior inquiries are usually described by historians as whitewashes. This inquiry openly and damningly blamed the disaster on the National Coal Board|
|Tay Bridge disaster||The fall of the Tay bridge on 28 December 1879. An express train was lost as the bridge fell, killing 75 people. The inquiry found that the bridge had been "badly designed, badly built and badly maintained"|
|Cullen Inquiry||Mar 1996||Sep 1996||Lord Cullen||The shootings at Dunblane Primary School by Thomas Hamilton on 13 March 1996|
|The May Inquiry||1989||Eventually transformed into the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice|
|The Saville Inquiry||1998||Bloody Sunday – the killing of 14 people by soldiers of the Parachute Regiment in Derry on 30 January 1972.|
|The Widgery Tribunal||1972||Also concerned with the Bloody Sunday shootings|
|The Lane Inquiry||20 November 1972||14 April 1973||Mr Justice Lane||The loss of British European Airways Flight 548 on 18 June 1972|
|The Bristol Inquiry||October 1998||Jul 2001||Professor Sir Ian Kennedy||Children's heart surgery carried out at the Bristol Royal Infirmary Hospital between 1984 and 1995|
|Laming Inquiry||Jan 2003||Lord Laming||An investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Victoria Climbié|
|Fingerprint Inquiry||Jun 2009||Sir Anthony Campbell||"The steps taken to verify the fingerprints associated with the case of the Lord Advocate v Shirley McKie in 1999, and related matters"|
|Fraser Inquiry||15 September 2004||Construction of the late and overbudget Scottish Parliament Building|
|The Public Inquiry into the September 2005 Outbreak of E.coli O157 in South Wales||19 March 2009||Professor Hugh Pennington||"The circumstances that led to the outbreak of E.coli O157 infection in South Wales in September 2005, and into the handling of the outbreak; and to consider the implications for the future and make recommendations accordingly"|
|Hutton Inquiry||Aug 2003||Sep 2003||Jan 2004||Lord Hutton of Bresagh||The circumstances surrounding the suicide of weapons of mass destruction expert David Kelly|
|The Shipman Inquiry||Sep 2000||Feb 2001||Jul 2002||Janet Smith||An investigation into the issues surrounding the case of mass murderer Harold Shipman|
|Ladbroke Grove Rail Inquiry||Jul 2000||Lord Cullen||Rail crash outside Paddington station in October 1999|
|Robert Hamill Inquiry||Nov 2004||Sir Edwin Jowitt||The Inquiry was established to investigate the death of Robert Hamill, following an incident in Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland on 27 April 1997.|
|Ladbroke Grove and Southall (joint inquiry)||Sep 2000||Dec 2000||Lord Cullen||Rail crash outside Paddington station in October 1999 and Southall|
|The ICL Inquiry (joint inquiry)||Jan 2008||Jul 2008||Lord Gill||Explosion at ICL plastics factory in Glasgow, May 2004, killing 9 and injuring 33|
|The Iraq Inquiry||15 June 2009||30 July 2009||Sir John Chilcot||"To identify the lessons to be learnt from the Iraq conflict"|
|The Leveson Inquiry||13 July 2011||14 November 2011||29 November 2012||Lord Justice Leveson||An inquiry "into the culture, practices and ethics of the press" in light of the issues surrounding the News International phone hacking scandal|
The Rosemary Nelson Inquiry
See also 
- "Tribunals of Inquiry". Citizens Information. Citizens Information Board. Retrieved 28 January 2011.
- Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Act, 1979. (text of 1979 Act)
- List of current 1921 Acts, as amended; search for Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921
- Irish Examiner, 26 March 2011; text online seen on 25 Aug 2011
- "Tribunals of Inquiry". Government Legislation Programme. Department of the Taoiseach. Retrieved 28 January 2011.
- GrabOne daily deals (28 November 2001). "Beef tribunal costs; 2001 article". The Irish Independent. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
- "RTE.ie". RTE.ie. 9 March 2005. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
- "2005 Ministerial comment in the Dáil". Historical-debates.oireachtas.ie. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
- Irish Times, 7 June 2011; online text seen 25 Aug 2011
- "Scribd.com". Scribd.com. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
- "The Fingerprint Inquiry Scotland".
- "E.coli Public Inquiry".
- "The Robert Hamill Inquiry".
- "The Iraq Inquiry".
- "Opening remarks". Leveson Inquiry website, about the inquiry. Leveson Inquiry. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
- "Leveson inquiry into press ethics begins". Channel 4 News, Monday 14 November 2011. Channel 4 News. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
- "An inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press: report [Leveson]". UK Government official documents website. The National Archives. Retrieved 30 November 2011.
- "Process". Leveson Inquiry: About. Leveson Inquiry. Retrieved 29 November 2011.