18th June 2021
Techies have a phrase for it: ‘garbage in, garbage out’.
Or GIGO, for short.
What this means, of course, is that the quality of the outputs of any given process are determined by the quality of the inputs.
This basic, rather obvious point is often missed by those who demand ‘inquiries’ into all sorts of apparent state failures.
The emphasis is often placed on it being ‘judge-led’ or whatnot – that is, the form that the inquiry should take.
But this is to prioritise form over substance.
And this is because any inquiry – and indeed any formal decision-making process such as a trial – is only as good as the information to which it has access.
If you control the flow of information to an inquiry (or trial) you then have significant control over the outcome.
In particular, if you control what information the inquiry does not get – even though that information is relevant and available – then you, in effect, neuter the inquiry.
This is why any duty of disclosure is a crucial element in respect of any inquiry.
If the police (in the examples of the Hillsborough inquiry and the Daniel Morgan independent panel) or the post office (in respect of the horizon scandal) deny documents exist, or refuse to give access to information, or simply refuse to disclose incriminating or embarrassing evidence, then the inquiry will be undermined.
And this is regardless of the qualities of the judges or other heads of the inquiry, or the scope and eloquence of the terms of reference, or the public interest in the matter.
And any entity that faces criticism or embarrassment – or even criminal liability – will not willingly disclose evidence which can be used against it.
Nor will the individuals that comprise those entities.
They will hire specialist lawyers, skilled and experienced in ‘managing’ disclosure – who will ensure the interests of their clients are protected without any law being actually broken.
All of this should not be any surprise.
And so why the obligations of disclosure are perhaps the most important thing to get right if you want any inquiry to be of any use.
Not who is the judge or on the panel, or what the terms of reference are, and so on.
Let the inquiry get the evidence that matters.
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