One thing that needs to be borne in mind is that public inquiries were effectively abolished by the Inquiries Act 2005. The act’s significance was well summed up by Joshua Rozenberg at the time it was passed:
Remember the fine old tradition of the British public
inquiry? The fearless chairman, often a judge, who could never be
sacked? The terms of reference, laid down in advance, that could never
be altered? The publication of evidence, both oral and written, that
the Government could never prevent?
All gone –
thanks to the Inquiries Act 2005, passed a week ago while your back was
turned. Forget about independent inquiries: ministers are now in
Under the new legislation, the Minister involved, presumably in this case John Reid, would have far -reaching powers:
· decides whether there should be an inquiry
· sets its terms of reference
· can amend its terms of reference
· appoints its members
· can restrict public access to inquiries
· can prevent the publication of evidence placed before an inquiry
· can prevent the publication of the inquiry’s report
· can suspend or terminate an inquiry
· can withhold the costs of any part of an inquiry which strays beyond the terms of reference set by the Minister.
Parliament’s role has been reduced to that of the passive recipient of information about inquiries, whereas under the 1921 Act reports of public inquiries were made to Parliament. Now, not only is there no guarantee that any inquiry will be public, but inquiry reports will go to the Minister. (British-Irish Rights Watch)
Although the Inquiries Act had far-reaching
implications, it was designed to deal with one particular case, a case
in which, as it happens, MI5 has very serious questions to answer.
Patrick Finucane, an outspoken human rights lawyer, was shot dead in
his home in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on 12 February 1989 by Loyalist
paramilitaries. In the aftermath of his killing, prima facie
evidence of criminal conduct by police and military intelligence
agents, acting in collusion with Loyalist paramilitaries in his murder,
emerged. In addition, allegations have emerged of a subsequent cover-up
by different government agencies and authorities.
2004, an independent report, commissioned by the UK and Irish
governments, concluded that "only a public inquiry will suffice" in
Patrick Finucane’s case.
Instead, in the face of strong criticism and opposition, the UK
executive railroaded the Inquiries Bill through Parliament and managed
to have it passed as legislation as the Inquiries Act 2005 on 7 April
2005, the last possible day before Parliament was dissolved. Any
inquiry, held under the new Act, would be controlled by the executive
which, under it, is empowered to block public scrutiny of state
actions. It will affect not only Patrick Finucane’s case, but also
other major incidents which would warrant public scrutiny of the
actions of the state, such as failures of public services, deaths in
prisons, rail disasters and army deaths in disputed circumstances. (Amnesty International)
For there to be any serious inquiry into 7/7, the Inquiries Act 2005 will have to be repealed. There is certainly a strong case for such an inquiry, although I have a lot of sympathy for Craig Murray’s view:
I also accept that there is a great deal of truth in MI5’s defence on
7/7, that you simply can’t follow up on every lead. Bluntly, I would
not want to live in the kind of Police State that could, and the logic
of many of those posting on 7/7 failure would tend to lead us towards
the kind of massive surveillance and intrusion of Karimov’s Uzbekistan.
I have seen that, and believe me, we do not want more of it here. (Craig Murray)
On the other hand, MI5 do seem to have had a high level informer, the guy referred to as ‘Q’ in Peter Taylor’s Panorama documentary, which raises all the usual questions about the ambiguous role of such individuals so familiar from cases such as those of Brian Nelson and Freddie Scappaticci – true wilderness of mirrors territory.
The Irish experience suggests that protecting innocent people is far from being MI5’s number one priority. It also suggests that holding the Security Service to account will be no easy task.