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, Australia 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. The political decision whether to appoint a public inquiry into an event was found to be dependent on several factors. The first is the extent of media coverage of the event. Events that receive more media interest are more likely to be inquired. Second, since the appointment of a public inquiry is typically made by government ministers, events that involve allegations of blame on the part of the relevant minister are less likely to be investigated by a public inquiry. 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. Recent studies have shown that the reports of public inquiries are not effective in changing public opinion regarding the event in question. Moreover, public inquiry reports appear to enjoy public trust only when they are critical of the government, and tend to lose credibility when they find no fault on the part of the government.
Republic of Ireland
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||A tip of coal waste slid into Pantglas Junior School in Aberfan, killing 144 on 21 October 1966. The inquiry 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||June 2010||Lord Saville||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||6 July 2016||Sir John Chilcot||"To identify the lessons to be learnt from the Iraq conflict"|
|The Rosemary Nelson Inquiry||April 2005||23 May 2011||Murder of Rosemary Nelson, a prominent Irish human rights solicitor|
|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|
|Al-Sweady Inquiry||2009||December 2014||Sir Thayne Forbes||Allegations that British service personnel had murdered and ill-treated detainees in Iraq in 2004|
- Sulitzeanu-Kenan, R. 2010. Reflection in the Shadow of Blame: When do Politicians Appoint Commissions of Inquiry?, British Journal of Political Science 40(3): 613-634.
- Sulitzeanu-Kenan, R & Y. Holzman-Gazit. 2016. Form and Content: Institutional Preferences and Public Opinion in a Crisis Inquiry, Administration & Society 48(1): 3-30.
- Sulitzeanu-Kenan, R. 2006. If They Get it Right: An Experimental Test of the Effects of UK Public Inquiries Appointment and Reports. Public Administration 84(3): 623-653.
- "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.