A tribunal of inquiry is an official review of events or actions ordered by a government body. In many common law countries, such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and Canada, such 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. In addition, 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. The political decision whether to appoint a public inquiry into an event was found to be dependent on several factors. The first is the extent of media coverage of the event; those that receive more media interest are more likely to be inquired. Second, since the appointment of a public inquiry is typically made by government ministers, events that involve allegations of blame on the part of the relevant minister are less likely to be investigated by a public inquiry. Third, 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 at least one of 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. Recent studies have shown that the reports of public inquiries are not effective in changing public opinion regarding the event in question. Moreover, public inquiry reports appear to enjoy public trust only when they are critical of the government, and tend to lose credibility when they find no fault on the part of the government.
In France, any major project which requires the compulsory acquisition of private property must, before being approved, be the subject of a public inquiry (usually by the prefect of the region or department in which the project will take place); the favourable outcome of such an inquiry is a déclaration d'utilité publique, a formal finding that the project will produce public benefit. This procedure was established by the law on expropriation enacted on 7 July 1833, which extended an earlier law enacted in 1810.
A number of historically important public inquiries have taken place in South Africa since the advent of full democracy in 1994. A number of which have looked into national scale events such as systematic human rights abuses during apartheid or wide scale corruption.
|Inquiry name||Announcement date||Launch date||Report date||Chaired by||Reason for inquiry|
|Goldstone Commission||24 October 1991||Richard Goldstone||To investigate political violence and intimidation that occurred between July 1991 and the 1994 general election that ended apartheid in South Africa|
|Truth and reconciliation commission||1996||Archbishop Desmond Tutu||Investigate, gather testimony and gain closure on instances of gross human rights abuses during apartheid.|
|The Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture||21 August 2018||Raymond Zondo||Allegations of wide scale corruption and state capture of state entities and state owned enterprises during the administration of President Jacob Zuma.|
In Britain, there are two types of public inquiry, the statutory inquiry set out in terms of the Inquiries Act 2005 (or its predecessor), or the non-statutory inquiry, often used in the investigate controversial events of national concern, the advantage being that they are more flexible, not needing to follow the requirements of the Inquiries Act.
A statutory inquiry is usually chaired by a well-known and well-respected member of the upper echelons of British society, such as a judge, lord, professor or senior civil servant. Inquiries are often informally named after the chair of the inquiry, or the event that is the subject of the inquiry.
|Inquiry name||Announcement date||Launch date||Report date||Chaired by||Reason for inquiry|
|Treachery of the Blue Books
"Reports of the commissioners of enquiry into the state of education in Wales"
|1847||1847||The alleged poor state of education in Wales and the lack of education through the medium of English|
|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"|
|Lynskey tribunal||1948||Allegations of corruption in the Government and the civil service|
|Aberfan disaster inquiry||Oct 1966||Aug 1967||Sir Herbert Edmund Davies||A tip of coal waste slid into Pantglas Junior School in Aberfan, killing 144 on 21 October 1966. The inquiry blamed the disaster on the National Coal Board|
|The Widgery Tribunal||1972||Also concerned with the Bloody Sunday shootings|
|The Lane Inquiry||20 November 1972||14 April 1973||Mr Justice Lane||The crash of British European Airways Flight 548 on 18 June 1972, known commonly as the "Staines Disaster"|
|The Sizewell B Inquiry||11 January 1983||13 January 1987||Sir Frank Layfield||A proposal by the Central Electricity Generating Board to construct a pressurized water reactor nuclear power station at Sizewell, Suffolk.|
|The Public Inquiry into the Piper Alpha Disaster||November 1988||November 1990||Lord Cullen||The government inquiry into the Piper Alpha disaster of 6 July 1988|
|The May Inquiry||1989||Eventually transformed into the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice|
|The Public Inquiry into the Shootings at Dunblane Primary School on 13 March 1996||Mar 1996||Sep 1996||Lord Cullen||The shootings at Dunblane Primary School by Thomas Hamilton on 13 March 1996|
|The Bloody Sunday Inquiry||1998||June 2010||Lord Saville||"Bloody Sunday" - the killing of 14 people by soldiers of the Parachute Regiment in Derry, Northern Ireland on 30 January 1972.|
|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|
|The Shipman Inquiry||Sep 2000||Feb 2001||Jul 2002||Dame 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|
|Laming Inquiry||May 2001||Jan 2003||Lord Laming||An investigation into the circumstances surrounding the murder of Victoria Climbié|
"Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Death of Dr David Kelly C.M.G."
|Aug 2003||Sep 2003||Jan 2004||Lord Hutton of Bresagh||The circumstances surrounding the suicide of weapons of mass destruction expert David Kelly|
|Fraser Inquiry||15 September 2004||Construction of the late and overbudget Scottish Parliament Building|
|The Rosemary Nelson Inquiry||1 October 2001||16 November 2004||23 May 2011||Murder of Rosemary Nelson, a prominent Irish human rights solicitor|
|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.|
|The ICL Inquiry (joint inquiry)||Jan 2008||Jul 2008||Lord Gill||Explosion at ICL plastics factory in Glasgow, May 2004, killing 9 and injuring 33|
|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"|
|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"|
|Al-Sweady Inquiry||2009||December 2014||Sir Thayne Forbes||Allegations that British service personnel had murdered and ill-treated detainees in Iraq in 2004|
|The Iraq Inquiry||15 June 2009||30 July 2009||6 July 2016||Sir John Chilcot||"To identify the lessons to be learnt from the Iraq conflict"|
|The Leveson Inquiry||13 July 2011||14 November 2011||29 November 2012||Lord Justice Leveson||An inquiry "into the culture, practices and ethics of the press" in light of the issues surrounding the News International phone hacking scandal|
|Grenfell Tower Inquiry||15 June 2017||14 September 2017||Sir Martin Moore-Bick||Establish the facts of what happened at Grenfell Tower to prevent it happening again|
In June 2017 an online petition was started calling for the Grenfell Tower fire to be investigated by an inquest, rather than a public inquiry.
In Hong Kong, the Commissions of Inquiry Ordinance was enacted for establishing such a commission. The commission established after the 2012 Lamma Island ferry collision produced a report of its findings which they made public; an internal report was kept confidential. In the 2019 Hong Kong protests, one of the five key demands of the protesters, was establishing another commission for the protests itself.