Sir John Chilcot’s management of the Iraq Inquiry faces being examined in a court of law after he failed to provide British families of military personnel killed in the 2003 war with a clear and immediate publication date.
Demands for a judicial review in the High Court are now expected to be lodged by lawyers representing the families. If granted, there would be an examination of how key witnesses have been allowed an allegedly excessive amount of time to put their side of critical conclusions reached by the inquiry.
The families, angry at year-on-year delays for the £10 million inquiry report, warned Sir John on August 13 that he had a fortnight to announce a delivery date.
Sir John issued a formal statement today - the day the deadline expired - which expressed his understanding of the “anguish of families of those who lost their lives in the conflict”. He repeated assurances that when the response process – known as Maxwellisation - was complete, “the Prime Minister, and thus Parliament and the public” will then be provided with “ a timetable for the publication of our work. “
Although sending a private letter to the families, which claimed to have answered concerns they have raised, Sir John did not bow to demands to fast-track the end of Maxwellisation process. He also gave no date for publication.
Sir John denied those criticised had been given an open-ended timescale, adding there had been no special negotiations, and that response process was essential to the fairness, accuracy and completeness of his report.
He confirmed a report in The Independent last week based on conversations with inquiry sources, that government documents not been submitted to the inquiry during its early stages, had opened up “new issues”.
The Iraq War: A timeline
The Iraq War: A timeline
1/16 11 September 2001
Terrorists belonging to al-Qaeda use hijacked aeroplanes to kill 2,996 people in attacks on the east coast of the US.
2/16 12 September 2001
Tony Blair promises George W Bush that the UK will support the US, whatever the President decides to do.
3/16 25 March 2002
Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary, warns Blair that invading Iraq would be legally dubious.
4/16 June 2002
Tony Blair asks defence officials to outline options for UK participation in military action against Iraq.
5/16 24 September 2002
The government publishes a dossier about the threat from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. A foreword by Tony Blair states that Saddam Hussein’s “military planning allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them”. It is subsequently alleged that this dossier was “sexed up” for political reasons.
6/16 2 October 2002
Congress authorises President Bush to use military force against Iraq.
7/16 8 November 2002
UN Security Council passes resolution 1441, insisting that weapons inspectors be allowed back into Iraq and calling on the regime to give up its WMD or face the consequences.
8/16 18 July 2003
David Kelly, an expert in biological warfare, is found dead after being named as the source of quotations used by the BBC’s Andrew Gilligan to suggest that the dossier of September 2002 had been “sexed up”. Lord Hutton is appointed to chair a judicial inquiry into his death.
9/16 13 December 2003
Saddam Hussein is captured near Tikrit, after nine months in hiding.
10/16 2 March 2004
Bombings in Baghdad and Karbala kill nearly 200 people: the worst attacks since the fall of Saddam.
11/16 14 September 2005
Bombs in Baghdad kill 160 people and injure more than 500.
12/16 30 December 2005
Saddam Hussein is executed.
13/16 28 May 2009
The last British combat troops leave Iraq.
14/16 24 November 2009
The Chilcot inquiry holds its first public hearing.
15/16 2 February 2011
The Chilcot inquiry holds its final public hearing.
16/16 21 January 2015
Sir John Chilcot confirms that his report will not be published before the general election in May 2015.
However his assurance the last Maxwellisation letters are expected to be returned to the inquiry “shortly”, falls well short of the firm guarantee the families wanted.
Lawyers representing the families believe Sir John’s handling of the inquiry was “unlawful”. They are likely to argue that he misapplied the inquiry’s own legal rules, claiming witnesses should have been given only one, not multiple opportunities to reply to criticism.
Sir John’s formal statement comes after weeks of sustained media attacks on the inquiry panel.
They have been pilloried as work-shy retirees, largely incapable of delivering an authoritative report.
Last week The Independent reported that sources close to the inquiry were angry at the panel being called “bumbling incompetents”, calling the attacks, much of it alleged to have come from within the Whitehall establishment, as “nasty hachet jobs” intended to discredit the inquiry.
Sources claimed that with Maxwellisation letters now circulating within governmental legal circles, any early forecast that Chilcot would go easy on political and military individuals and institutions, had now vanished.
A spokeswoman for the inquiry last night confirmed that no timetable had been set by Sir John, and that this would only happen when the inquiry panel had completed the task given to them in 2009 by the then prime minister, Gordon Brown.
Sir John’s statement said the mandate set by Mr Brown was without precedent, and that the final report would be “rigourous, accurate and firmly based on evidence we have assembled.”
He repeated assurances that inquiry panel - comprising the military historian, Sir Lawrence Freedman, Sir Roderic Lyne, the former UK ambassador in Moscow, and Baroness Prashar, a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights – were “independent and impartial”. One of the panel, the historian Sir Martin Gilbert, died earlier this year.
Lawyers representing the families said they expected to make a formal response in due course.Reuse content