Ministers may face barristers' questions

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Indy Politics

High-flying barristers could soon be cross-examining ministers in Parliament under radical plans to bring the forensic questioning of the Hutton inquiry to Commons Select Committees.

In a move that may upset some more traditional backbenchers, senior MPs impressed by the success of Lord Hutton's hearings are considering whether to allow QCs to help them conduct their own investigations.

The powerful Liaison Committee, a joint committee of the chairmen of all 34 select committees, has agreed to discuss the option of using legal counsel to lead questioning or supplement questions from MPs.

James Dingemans QC, counsel to the Hutton inquiry, impressed many with his detailed questioning of witnesses such as Tony Blair, Geoff Hoon and senior civil servants, during its testimony.

It was Lord Hutton himself who raised the idea of lawyers being used to refine the work of select committees when he asked Donald Anderson, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, whether any thought had been given to the use of barristers to conduct examination of witnesses.

The Liaison Committee's new discussion paper into the impact of the Hutton inquiry, which also demands much better access to e-mails, documents and witnesses, states that Mr Anderson "quite properly pointed out that this was a matter for the House, not individual committees".

The paper says it is not clear whether Lord Hutton meant barristers could be used for all types of inquiry or solely for those concerned with the conduct of individuals.

Under "issues for consideration", the document also suggests MPs could receive "forensic training" in how to put questions and how to follow up each other's questions.