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.