Letter: Right to representation

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Sir: Andrew Marr seems not to notice that ministers and civil servants are also citizens with as much right to fair treatment as anyone else ("A matter of reputation and honour", 27 January). This claim has been jeopardised both by the form of the Scott inquiry and by Sir Richard's approach.

Sir Richard was given the option of transforming his inquiry into a formal one. He should have taken up this option. He should also have pressed for there to be three judges rather than one, or, alternatively, expert lay assessors with knowledge of the workings of government.

Nearly 30 years ago, the Salmon Commission declared that

a witness who has to be subjected to an inquisitorial form of enquiry should be accord the elementary right to be represented.

The right to be represented by council arises not because, as Marr suggests, "assorted ministers are retarded inarticulate souls, unable to speak for themselves", but because no witness is able to appreciate the totality of a highly complex picture, nor to test, through cross-examination, hostile evidence. Sir Richard, however, has chosen to interpret the Salmon guidelines "flexibly". The Government has also chosen to mount a running commentary during the inquiry. The combination of the roles of judge, detective and prosecutor is not one that inspires confidence.

Ministers can defend themselves publicly against unjust accusations. Civil servants - ignored in Andrew Marr's article - enjoy no such luxury and could find their careers ruined.

Yours faithfully,

Vernon Bogdanor

Brasenose College


27 January

The writer is Reader in Government at Oxford University.