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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A Public inquiry is an official review of events or actions ordered by a government body in the United Kingdom or Ireland. 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. Inquiries are requested not only for the genuine public good, but also in attempt to make the government look bad – either by allowing the inquiry to go ahead and uncover mistakes by the government or by making the government refuse and leave the impression that they have something to hide. 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.


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 Planning Tribunal (previously the Flood Tribunal) which is currently in its eighth year and has heard 615 days of evidence so far.

Inquiries in the Republic of Ireland are governed under Section 1 of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act of 1921. (This 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 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 Tribunals discretion, be held in private.


List of Irish public inquiries

  • 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
  • 1943: Dealings in Great Southern Railway Stocks between 1 January 1943 and 18 November 1943
  • 1946: Allegations concerning Parliamentary Secretary[citation needed]
  • 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
  • 1997: Tribunal of Inquiry into Payments to Politicians by Ben Dunne - the McCracken Tribunal.
  • 1996: Hepatitis C scandal
  • 1997–ongoing: Tribunal of Inquiry (Dunnes Payments) (follow-up), the Moriarty Tribunal
  • 1997–ongoing: Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, now known as The Mahon Tribunal
  • 1999: 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–ongoing: 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 Ferns Report on clerical sexual abuse in the Irish Catholic Diocese of Ferns, County Wexford
  • 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

An inquiry is usually chaired by a well-known and well-respected member of the upper echelons of British society, such as judge, lord, professor or senior civil servant.

List of public inquiries in the UK

Inquiry name Announcement date Launch date Report date Chaired by Reason for inquiry
Treachery of the Blue Books 1847
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 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"[1]
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" [2]
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[3].
Ladbroke Grove and Southall (joint inquiry) Sep 2000 Dec 2000 Lord Cullen rail crash outside Paddington station in October 1999 and Southall
The Iraq Inquiry 15 June 2009 30 July, 2009 Sir John Chilcot "to identify the lessons to be learnt from the Iraq conflict"[4]
Fallen Tay Bridge from the north

See also


  1. ^ "The Fingerprint Inquiry Scotland". 
  2. ^ "E.coli Public Inquiry". 
  3. ^ "The Robert Hamill Inquiry". 
  4. ^ "The Iraq Inquiry". 


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