Thursday, 22 March 2018

Under Cover Policing Inquiry

Proceedings in courts and public inquiries rarely produce moments of "drama" but there was certainly such a moment on 21st March at the Under Cover Policing Inquiry.  This inquiry was set up in 2015 under the chairmanship of Sir Christopher Pitchford who died in 2017.  He was replaced by Sir John Mitting - (Chairman of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission from 2007 to 2012).

A serious concern about the inquiry ought to be that 3 years have elapsed since Theresa May - then Home Secretary - announced her intention to establish the inquiry.  Even after that length of time, the inquiry is considering "anonymity applications" and the inquiry has yet to hear evidence on the substantive issues it was set up to consider - see the Terms of Reference.

The moment of "drama" is noted in the transcript of the 21st March hearing - "Ms Kaufmann and the legal team on behalf of the non-state, non-police core participants leave court."

Phillippa Kaufmann QC made representations, on behalf of her clients, that the Inquiry required a panel which was representative of a proper cross-section of society including individuals who have a proper informed experiential understanding of discrimination both on grounds of race and sex.  She continued - "I'm sorry to say this, but instead we have the usual white upper middle class elderly gentleman whose life experiences are a million miles away from those who were spied upon. And the very narrow ambit of your experience is not something I'm simply creating out of thin air. It has been exemplified already in the way that you have approached these applications."

Ms Kaufmann then reminded the judge of a view he had expressed that an officer who had been married for many years would have been unlikely to have had intimate relations with someone being spied upon.  That view was met with astonishment at the time and the Chairman commented that he may be "somewhat naive and a little old-fashioned."

"The core participants, the non-state, non-police core participants, do not want this important inquiry ..... to be presided over by some who is both naive and old-fashioned and does not understand the world that they or the police inhabit."

These participants had no confidence in the inquiry as currently established and the Chairman was asked to either recuse himself or, if not prepared to do that, "to ensure that measures are taken to bring about a true panel."

As matters stood her clients were not prepared to continue to participate in the hearing and Ms Kaufmann had been instructed to withdraw from the hearing  while the anonymity issues were considered by the Chairman.

It will be interesting to see where matters proceed from here.  When Ms Kaufmann withdrew, the Chairman moved on to hear submissions by Maya Sikand on behalf of Peter Francis.  The inquiry was later adjourned to a date to be fixed. 

See BBC News 21st March - where this event is reported and where it is said that it is expected to take another year before all the evidence is heard.

Other inquiries:

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry continues to hold procedural hearings - e.g. 20th and 21st March.  That inquiry is running in parallel with a criminal investigation and the Police are being particularly careful regarding release of certain material to the inquiry in case their investigation is compromised.  The Grenfell Inquiry has also received a massive amount of documentation.  Inquiry counsel - Mr Richard Millett QC - referred to 330,000 documents already received and the number may rise to over 400,000.  On 20th March, the Inquiry published details of Core Participants (CPs).

Meanwhile, the Independent Inquiry Child Sexual Abuse continues and is currently investigating Child Sexual Abuse in the Anglican Church.  This Inquiry, under the Chairmanship of Professor Alexis Jay, has a very wide remit and is likely to be on-going for a considerable time.  The Inquiry was set up in 2014 and Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss was to be its Chairman but she stood down.   The Chair then became New Zealand judge Dame Lowell Goddard but she also resigned and Alexis Jay became Chair in August 2016.

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