Nemo iudex in causa sua: Do me a por favor!

Today, Britain begins a process of carefully controlled investigation. We do public inquiries rather well.  We appoint distinguished men and women to listen to evidence and they then go off and write something to the taste of the government in power. Newspapers, television channels, bloggers and other commentators get hot under the collar for a while and we move on. The Hutton Inquiry was a prime example of the genre. The Hutton Inquiry website is no longer operational.  The Ministry of Justice is maintaining it for archive purposes… or possibly… in the modern parlance… for ‘training purposes’.

Will the Iraq Inquiry go the same way?

1. Sir John Chilcot, has insisted that the legality of the invasion in 2003 will be one of the key issues it addresses. Fine.  But where are the lawyers on the panel to conduct appropriate and searching cross-examination?

The Guardian notes: “Lawyers are trained to weigh up evidence and will know and say when they see a decision-making process that appears to be out of the ordinary,” said the British international law expert Professor Philippe Sands QC. “The fact that the members of the inquiry do not include a lawyer is very, very telling”.

The Guardian continued to tap the nails in: “Some of the debates around the legality of the war are quite sophisticated – it is not all clear-cut,” the senior legal figure said. “It’s going to be very difficult to deal with someone like Blair without a panel experienced in cross-examination.”.

2. The issue of the war’s legality is, one would have thought, the central issue.  The judiciary are right to express ‘surprise’ at the absence of a senior lawyer or member of the judiciary on the panel.

3. The Telegraph reports that witnesses could be given immunity from prosecution. This is all very well (and may, indeed be valuable for some appearing?)  but are we really going to get any where near the truth with imprecise questioning?  Are we going to have men and women appearing behind black curtains talking into a voice synthesiser?  Inevitably, there will be some evidence which cannot be aired publicly – in the interest of state security?

Off to a good start then?  We shall see.

4 thoughts on “Nemo iudex in causa sua: Do me a por favor!

  1. Regrettably, Hutton destroyed the credibility of these inquiries. That damage might have been repairable BUT, since Hutton, the Inquiries Act 2005 has kicked in and that has eradicated the concept of any truly independent inquiry.

    As for Mr Blair – surely he can properly claim that he was advised that the war was legal. He got that opinion when the Chief of the Defence Staff expressed concerns. Therefore, the man who should answer questions about the legality is the Attorney-General of the day whose second (modified) opinion was eventually (after a lot of hesitation and wrangling) put into the public domain. To challenge that opinion would require the services of eminent international lawyers.

    Apart from the legality question there are many more issues relating to the Iraw War which ought to be answered, not least the obvious absence of planning for what would happen after “shock and awe”; the number of deaths and so on.

    Will we get answers? I would hope so but doubt it very much.

  2. … and, after the “good” start, we are now seeing Gordon saying that eveidence could be withheld.

    My previous post might have given the impression that I thought the Chilcot Inquiry was being run under the Inquiries Act 2005. Of course, that is not the case. It was set up by executive action but not using the Act. Nevertheless, no matter what the form an inquiry takes, irreparable damage has been done by Hutton etc.

  3. “Lawyers are trained to weigh up evidence and will know and say when they see a decision-making process that appears to be out of the ordinary,”

    lawyers – blair, harman, straw – these are the sort of people we need to sort stuff out! why would anyone think that being a lawyer might qualify you for anything other than contempt?

    a more fundamental issue is that, by definition, anyone who is on one of these inquiries is of the class of people ‘we’ trust to decide important things. nobody radical, off-centre or genuinely free-thinking would ever be chosen lest the horses be frightened. those chosen may be intelligent, honest and honourable but, steeped in privilege as they must be, how could they ever think differently from those they are tasked to investigate?

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