31 January 2019

Inquiry outlines approach to criticisms of witnesses

Warning letters to offer right of reply but minimise delays to Inquiry findings

We have today published a further document in our ‘statements of approach’ series that details how we will notify witnesses or organisations that they are to be criticised either by other witnesses or by the Inquiry itself in its final report.

We have listened to concerns about ‘Maxwellisation’ and ‘Salmon letters’ in other inquiries.  These concerns include a lack of transparency in discussing potential criticisms in private correspondence and the delays resulting from warning letters sent to witnesses facing criticism.

The Inquiry is as open and transparent as it is legally possible to be.  Fairness demands that someone criticised has the opportunity to respond. The Inquiries Act also says the Chair must not include significant criticism of a person in his report unless they have been sent a warning letter.  However, this Inquiry aims to ensure that significant criticisms are explored in public so the warning letter process should not surface new issues nor cause delays.

In the course of our proceedings criticisms will be made of individuals or organisations, whether by witnesses in their written statements, in their oral evidence or in documents provided to the Inquiry.

The Chair may also make findings or reach conclusions in relation to a number of criticisms and his proposed findings or conclusions may involve explicit or significant criticism of individuals and organisations.

Given the breadth of the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference, the large number of individuals and organisations who may be subject to some form of criticism during the course of the Inquiry, and the fact that the criticisms made of different individuals or organisations are likely to vary considerably in their nature and seriousness, there is no single, ‘one size fits all’ approach. Judgements will have to be made by the Inquiry on a case-by-case basis as to the best way of ensuring fairness while avoiding unnecessary delay.

Chair of the Inquiry, Sir Brian Langstaff, said:

“It is vital that we approach all criticisms fairly and offer those individuals and organisations who are to be criticised a right of reply. It is also fundamental to the Inquiry that this is a transparent process both for those infected and affected and those who may be criticised.

The Inquiries Act requires that confidential warning letters are sent to anyone who is potentially to be the subject of substantial criticism in my report. Though a reasonable time must be allowed to provide for a reply to that criticism, what is reasonable can be kept to an absolute minimum by ensuring that as far as possible a reasonable opportunity is offered to answer any criticism during the course of the Inquiry.  My expectation is that in this way the process need not cause any more than minimal delay to the publication of the Inquiry’s conclusions.”