The outcry against the Nicholas Blake Q.C.’s report into the Deepcut suicides has one again focussed on the use senior judicial figures to chair this type of enquiry.
The debate started when Lord Hutton accepted the government’s offer to chair the enquiry into David Kelly’s death. The decisions to establish both enquiries were purely political. There was no legal imperative for an enquiry in either case.
Doctor Kelly’s death would normally have been dealt by the coroner. As well as an inquest, there had been several police enquiries into the Deepcut deaths.
Both Blake and Hutton are senior judicial figures. Blake, a Deputy High Court Judge will no doubt return to the bench after a decent interval has elapsed. Lord Hutton-a Law lord- returned to deal with judicial business in the House of Lords shortly after he completed his work with the Kelly enquiry.
Both inquiries were surrounded by controversy. Imagine you are a litigant appearing before either men. It’s absurd to think you will not have read the often trenchant criticism of their work. Could you really think either are “above the fray”?
As Michael Beloff Q.C. in a wonderful collection of papers “ Hutton and Butler- Lifting the Lid on the Workings of Power (a snip at £6.56 from Amazon) wrote:
“judges ought not to be asked to undertake tasks that are properly those of our elected representatives. They are chosen for those tasks because of the respect in which they are held: but that respect may be damaged by the very performance of those tasks."
He continues by examining how things differ in the United States.
The American Canons of Judicial Conduct provide:
“ a judge should not accept an appointment to a government committee or another position that is concerned with issues of fact or policy or matters other than the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice. The Warren Commission dealing with the assassination of a serving president was a rare exception that illuminated the rule.”