Scott inquiry defends 'pragmatic approach'

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The Independent Online
LORD JUSTICE SCOTT has defended the procedures adopted at his inquiry, following accusations by Lord Howe, the former Foreign Secretary, of unfair treatment of witnesses.

In a letter published in today's Independent, Christopher Muttukumaru, secretary to the Scott Inquiry, rebuts criticism of the procedures, saying fairness to witnesses is the inquiry's 'governing criterion'.

Lord Howe attacked the judge and Presiley Baxendale QC, the inquiry counsel, before he gave evidence last week. He accused them of being 'detective, inquisitor, advocate, and judge' and alleged that 'habitual safeguards' such as legal representation and the right to cross-examine were being denied to witnesses. He claimed any findings by the inquiry may be compromised as a result.

Mr Muttukumaru, who said the procedures were adopted after consultation with the Government before the inquiry began, revealed witnesses appearing before the inquiry can cross-examine if 'important disputes of fact' occur. The value and need for cross-examination was 'not obvious', he said, when differences between witnesses amount to interpretations of documents or the inferences or conclusions drawn from them.

He said Lord Justice Scott's procedural approach was 'entirely pragmatic . . . If it became necessary to allow it (cross-examination) in order for the Inquiry to be able to deal fairly with particular allegations made against particular individuals, appropriate arrangements could and would be made.'

'The other side of the coin, is that, if every witness were allowed, through his lawyer, to cross-examine any other witness whose views or opinions he might disagree with, the efficient conduct of the Inquiry would be inhibited.' He said the length and cost of the inquiry would be unacceptable.

The Government has distanced itself further from Lord Howe's attack on Lord Justice Scott. Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, in a letter to Robin Cook, Labour's trade and industry spokesman, said Lord Howe was no longer a member of the Government and gave evidence as a private citizen. 'The comments he made are his own responsibility,' Mr Heseltine said.

Michael Meacher MP, Labour's spokesman on the Citizen's Charter, called for vital documents referred to by John Major, the Prime Minister, during his evidence to the inquiry, to be made available to MPs in the House of Commons library.