Monday, 30 May 2005: The Law Reform Commission’s Report on Public Inquiries Including Tribunals of Inquiry will be formally launched by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Mr Michael McDowell at the Commission’s offices at 6pm this evening.
BACKGROUND TO REPORT
The Report being launched today forms part of the Commission’s Programme of Law Reform 2000-2007. It follows the publication by the Commission in 2003 of a Consultation Paper on Public Inquiries including Tribunals of Inquiry. The Consultation Paper examined the current law on public inquiries and tribunals and made provisional recommendations for reform across a broad range of areas, including: how they are established, how terms of reference are set, procedural fairness and costs. This Report, which contains 58 recommendations, represents the final views of the Commission, having taken account of the submissions received on the Consultation Paper. The Report also includes a draft Tribunals of Inquiry Bill incorporating its proposals for legislative reform in a single text with a view to
replacing the existing Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts 1921 to 2004.
COMMISSION OF INVESTIGATION: A LOW KEY PRIVATE INQUIRY
In its 2003 Consultation Paper, the Commission also recommended the enactment of legislation providing for a private low-key inquiry which would focus on the wrong or malfunction in the system rather than on individual wrongdoers and which would operate as a preliminary to, or in some cases an alternative to, a full scale tribunal of inquiry. The essential elements of this recommendation were implemented in the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004. The passing of the 2004 Act (on which the
Commission makes limited recommendations for reform) allows the Commission to concentrate in the Report being published today on reform of the law relating to tribunals of inquiry.
PUBLIC BENEFIT OF TRIBUNALS
In making proposals for reform, the Commission is conscious of the enormous public benefit that has resulted from the various tribunals of inquiry established in recent years. These have had the effect of transforming our understanding of events in public life which occurred in the past, and without such inquiries these difficult areas may never have come to public attention. The Commission’s recommendations for reform are intended to ensure that tribunals continue to be available as a means of investigating urgent matters of public importance, while at the same time attempting
to ensure that they are focused and provide adequate procedural protections without incurring excessive public costs.
ESTABLISHING TRIBUNALS AND TERMS OF REFERENCE
The Commission recommends that the current situation under which tribunals are established on the basis of resolutions by both Houses of the Oireachtas should be retained. The Commission also recommends that alternatives - such as a commission of investigation or civil or criminal court proceedings - should be considered before establishing a tribunal. Where a tribunal is established, the Commission recommends reform on the procedures for drafting its terms of reference, in particular how they might be made as precise as possible. The Commission also recommends that a
Central Inquiries Office should be established which would publish booklets setting out key administrative and procedural guidance for tribunals.
The Commission also considers the application of the principles of fair procedures to tribunals of inquiry: these include the right to copies of evidence taken, the right to cross-examination by a lawyer, the right to give rebutting evidence, and the right to address the tribunal through a lawyer. The Commission recommends that a tailored approach to procedures should be applied: this would include considering whether full or limited legal representation is given to interested parties, the extent to which pooled or shared legal representation is appropriate and the extent to which repeated crossexamination is required.
PRIVATE MEETINGS, PUBLIC HEARINGS AND BROADCASTING
The Commission recommends that, in relation to private information gathering meetings held at the early stages of an inquiry, a written protocol should be developed on the nature and effect of these meetings. The Commission also recommends the retention of the current presumption that tribunal hearings should be in public and that a discretion to allow hearings to be broadcast should be introduced.
The Commission makes a number of recommendations on tribunal costs. It recommends that the relevant Department with responsibility for a particular tribunal, following consultation with the Department of Finance, should set a broad budget figure at the outset of the tribunal. The Commission also recommends that the tribunal chairperson should have regard to the need to avoid any unnecessary cost in making any decision as to the planning, procedure or conduct of an inquiry. As regards legal and other professional representation, the Commission stresses the need to give
considerable thought to what level of representation a tribunal engages for particular tasks, in particular whether persons other than lawyers should be engaged for certain functions. On the fee structures for professionals, the Commission recommends that flexible arrangements should be put in place in relation to the engagement and remuneration of lawyers and other personnel involved in tribunals: this could include a combination of a fee structure, a tendering procedure, or the existing procedure where a tribunal engages a lawyer at an agreed level of remuneration.
Report on Public Inquiries including Tribunals on Inquiry