Woolf calls for restrictions on inquiries

Former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf has called for the length and cost of public inquiries to be limited.

Woolf is leading the first ‘inquiry into inquiries’ to examine the effectiveness of long-running hearings, such as the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics and the Saville Inquiry into the Bloody Sunday shootings in Northern Ireland.

He is working on behalf of the independent organisation, the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR). In comments made earlier this week, Woolf said that inquiries are lengthy because justice needs to be seen to be done.

Woolf told the BBC: “Judges are very experienced with determining facts. But they’re not necessarily experts in making recommendations so that illustrates one of the problems with the inquiry system as it is now.”

He said that the public must have an opportunity to be heard on topics that effect local communities, such as major planning decisions.

He added: “The cathartic effect of being heard is a very important part of the inquiry. When it comes to recommending whether or not there should be a new airport or motorway then the judge whose conducting the inquiry [… ]  may not be all that well placed to make the decision.”

Woolf said that the Hutton Inquiry into the death of government weapons inspector Dr David Kelly highlighted the conflict between what the public expect from such hearings and what actually happens with decisions and recommendations.

He said: “During the course of the Hutton Inquiry, everybody was praising the judge and saying what a marvelous job he was doing but when he came to give his decision and recommendations, very quickly there was a change of tone.

“Everybody was highly critical of my ex-colleague Lord Hutton, very unfairly critical,” he told the BBC.

Woolf was Britain’s most senior judge until 2005 and in the the late 1990s led widespread reform of the Civil Procedure Rules which have led to greater efficiencies in civil litigation.