The Maxwellisation of Inquiries must be curbed. It's like concluding that Fred West merely rearranged his patiio

15 Aug 2015 at 08:40

If your enjoyment of Celebrities Bake Their pets is being ruined by strange whirring sounds and irritating distortions, don’t worry it is probably the fallout of Mr. justice Forbes spinning in his grave. In case you have forgotten, he tried a civil case against the DTI brought by that great paragon of truth and virtue Robert Maxwell. Way back in 1969 a DTI Inquiry into Maxwell’s business banditry came to the perfectly sensible conclusion that Maxwell, ‘was unfit to hold stewardship of a public company’. M’lud though otherwise accusing the DTI of ‘committing the business murder of Maxwell’. To be fair to Forbes he was just setting out the basic principle that witnesses should be treated fairly and that before a report could be published which criticised named individuals they and their lawyers should have the right to reply. This is how the Maxwellisation of Inquiries began.

I really do feel very sorry for John Chilcot. Everyone is getting thoroughly pissed off with him from the Prime Minister downwards. The tabloids are screeching whitewash, cover up and accusing the establishment of sticking together like shit to a blanket. And the families of those who tragically died in Iraq are anxious to demand the truth and seek closure.

The trouble is that Chilcot inherited these rules and has to abide by them. The added difficulty for him is that there seems to be no limit on a witnesses right to reply. Well, there bloody well should be. Flotillas of lawyers letters are passing backwards and forwards and clogging the system up. And this is not the only inquiry bogged down in the swamps of obfuscation and red tape. The inquiry into the collapse of HBOS is still limping towards producing a report nine years on. This is insane and should be stopped. It wouldn’t happen in a court of law and it shouldn’t be allowed happen at an Inquiry. Counsel can’t bang on and on in cross examination in court. No sensible judge would allow it. He has to see that witnesses are treated fairly. So may we please introduce a little common sense here? When all reasonable avenues of replying to a criticism have been exhausted at an inquiry that should be the end of it. It is ridiculous that they give the appearance of being treated like old immigration appeals where every opportunity to delay is exploited.

Chilcot is bound by the judgement of Mr. Justice Forbes. Is it not beyond the wit of the Lord Chief Justice to issue a practice direction? Or if it is felt to be necessary, could not some short statutory instrument rectify this? These delays are no good for anyone. It unfairly makes Blair look shifty and casts a shadow over the other witnesses and damages the reputation of a thoroughly honest civil servant. I served with Chilcot in Northern Ireland in the early nineties and he is no politician’s poodle. But action needs to be taken now as it will be meat and drink for the Blair hating Corbynistas.
Oh, and I read this morning that anybody who has been criticised will not be named. Complete bonkerism which will undermine public confidence in the inquiry system. It would be like holding an inquiry into the activities of Fred West and coming to the conclusion that he had merely rearranged his patio. Years ago their was an interesting book written by a Parliamentarian called Communication. I do hope that it doesn’t feature in Sir John’s library as there is a fascinating chapter entitled How to avoid answering difficult questions. Ah, and I expect you want to know who the author was? Step forward Greville Janner. You couldn’t make it up.