Hillsborough Law calls for nothing but the truth: an interview with Mark George QC

Briefly, what prompted the Public Authority Accountability Bill?

What turned Hillsborough from a tragedy into an outrage was that following the disaster, public authorities ignored their responsibility to the public and rather than being honest and open about their failings, instead embarked on a campaign to distort the truth of what had happened and deflect the blame onto others, in this case the fans.

At the recent inquests, institutions such as the South Yorkshire Police (SYP) and the Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS) ignored previous apologies they had issued and continued to try to deflect blame onto others rather than acknowledging their own mistakes and shortcomings. This not only added many months to the length of time the inquests took but also it added significantly to the distress caused to the families of the victims of the disaster.

What are the key provisions in the Public Authority Accountability Bill?

  • section 1 of the Bill imposes a statutory duty on public authorities, servants and officials to act at all times in the public interest and with transparency, candour and frankness

  • section 2 requires public authorities to assist in court proceedings where their acts or omissions are or may be relevant—this would require them to make full disclosure of relevant documents and provide further information as ordered by a court or inquiry

  • section 8 makes these duties enforceable by court proceedings or by way of judicial review to the High Court

  • section 11 creates criminal offences where a public servant intentionally or recklessly misleads the public or court proceedings or any inquiry or investigation where the duty of candour arises

  • section 12 is intended to rectify the anomaly whereby a former public servant is under no obligation to assist a subsequent inquiry?

How was the Bill compiled, and what influences did it draw upon

The idea came from the families affected by the Hillsborough disaster and the behaviour of public authorities in its aftermath. Our job then was to translate their wishes into draft legislation. Most of the actual drafting was done by Pete Weatherby QC who led the legal team on behalf of 22 families at the Hillsborough inquests. Legal teams representing the other families were also consulted as to the contents of the proposed Bill.

The Bill takes account of the duty of candour requirements in the context of healthcare (under regulation 20 of the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014, SI 2014/2936, although our version is written in plain English and we trust therefore easier to understand. The draft takes full account of experience from other inquiries and also from other areas where similar problems appear to have occurred—eg, the Birmingham pub bombings and the police handling of the picketing of Orgreave during the 1984–85 miners’ strike.

This article was first published on Lexis®PSL

​Public Law analysis on 20 September

2016. Click for a free trial of Lexis®PSL.

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