Is IICSA learning from the procedural difficulties of the Chilcot inquiry?

Verita Team

Published 12 September 2016

Procedural difficulties

At the end of 2015 we produced a blog discussing some key reasons covering procedural difficulties into why investigations and inquiries go wrong. Using the Chilcot inquiry as an illustration we probed the reasons behind the repeatedly delayed publication of its report to draw out some themes that resonated with our own experiences.

We commented on the importance of ensuring that the terms of reference for any investigation or inquiry provide an appropriate framework around which all operational, investigating activity revolves. Should the terms of reference be unsuitable it is likely that an investigation will not culminate in the production of a report that answers the questions it was conceived to answer. Further, we commented on the necessity to guarantee that an investigation team is appropriate in size and specialty and that it has adequate powers to collect materials and assemble interviewees in an unrestricted and timely capacity.

Seven years, £10 million and 2.6 million words later the Chilcot inquiry’s report was published on 6 July 2016. So what did we learn? There was “no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein” in March 2003 and military action was “not a last resort”. The UK “chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted” and judgements about the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction “were presented with a certainty that was not justified”. Despite warnings, the consequences of the invasion of Iraq were underestimated and the planning and preparations for post-Saddam Iraq were “wholly inadequate”.

Despite a generally hospitable reception of the Chilcot report from the families of the deceased as well as current MPs, some considered the report to not have gone far enough. Years before the report was published MPs drew attention the inquiry team’s absence of personnel with first-hand military expertise or proven inquisitorial skills such as those with a legal background. The length of time taken for the inquiry to complete its report is seen by many as excessive. Sir John Chilcot said that the ‘Maxwellisation’ process, giving those facing criticism the right to reply, was to blame for the delays. The Maxwellisation process led to the identification of government documents that had not been originally submitted to the inquiry, opening new lines of pursuit. It seems that the Maxwellisation process began without the completion of the process of declassifying documents suggesting that the inquiry’s evidence gathering process could have been better managed.

We now have a new high-profile inquiry that is having problems with timeliness: the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). IICSA is struggling with some of the same challenges faced by the Chilcot inquiry. Since IICSA was established in 2014, it has failed to launch with three separate chairs. The most recent false start was under Dame Lowell Goddard QC who was appointed as chair in February 2014 but resigned earlier this year following concerns with the inquiry’s terms of reference. This month she commented in a memo:

with the benefit of hindsight – or more realistically – the benefit of experience, it is clear there is an inherent problem in the sheer scale and size of the Inquiry (which its budget does not match) and therefore in its manageability. Its boundless compass, including as it does, every state and non-state institution, as well as relevant institutional contexts, coupled with the absence of any built-in time parameters, does not fit comfortably or practically within the single inquiry model in which it currently resides. Nor is delivery on the limitless extent of all of the aspirations in its terms of reference possible in any cohesive or comprehensive manner.”

Goddard also refers to an absence of leadership during the early period of the inquiry, prior to her appointment, which meant that it could not undertake fundamental planning, initial scoping nor develop a clear sense of direction. Again, like the Iraq inquiry, we see here that an impulsive commissioning process has contributed to the production of terms of reference that some consider impractical and an inquiry team that is deemed unsuited to the task. On this Goddard said in her memo:

“I have had little or no input into either the composition of the senior management team or the recruitment of secretariat staff during the lifetime of the current Inquiry… The administrative arrangements made by the Home Office as the Inquiry’s sponsor meant that in the recruitment of staff priority was given to civil servants and any non-civil service staff had to become civil servants unless they were employed on contract through the Solicitor to the Inquiry. In practical terms this meant that the skills and qualifications of many recruits did not fit the tasks which they were called upon to perform, as none of the secretariat or senior management team had previous experience of running an inquiry of this nature… I felt as Chair handicapped by not being given a free hand to recruit staff of the type that I judged to be essential.”

In August 2016 former Verita senior associate Alexis Jay was appointed to replace Goddard. Under its new chair the inquiry panel will not seek to revise the terms of reference but it has initiated a wide-ranging internal review to assess approaches for evaluating the information it receives. We hope that IICSA can learn from the Chilcot inquiry, in a procedural sense, and that it can ultimately provide answers in a timely and proportionate manner.

Is IICSA learning from the procedural difficulties of the Chilcot inquiry?


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