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Do independent reviews do the job, ministers ask?

8 January 2018

The use of independent reviews – such as those currently running on the legal aid system and the regulation of legal services – is itself being put out to scrutiny by the Scottish Government.

Ministers have opened a consultation which seeks views, among other questions, on whether the “largely ad hoc, minister-requested inquiries and reviews into matters of public concern” are functioning effectively.

Such reviews have become common as an alternative to processes with more defined procedures and practices, such as a judicial or public inquiry. In the legal sphere they have included the review of the civil courts under Lord Gill, Lord Carloway's review of aspects of Scottish criminal evidence and procedure, and the review of civil litigation funding under Sheriff Principal Taylor, each of which has led to substantial legislative reform.

Unusually, there is no background paper published with the questions on which submissions are invited. However a brief introduction states that the review has been established “to examine the processes relating to the establishment, management and support of independent inquiries and reviews in Scotland. Our key area of interest is ad hoc, minister-requested inquiries and reviews into matters of public concern, as opposed to public inquiries, judicial inquiries, and statutory inquiries”.

It continues: “We are keen to hear from anyone who can assist with our work, in particular, persons and organisations with personal or professional experience relating to independent inquiries or reviews. We therefore issue this public call for written submissions.”

Questions posed include what makes a review “independent”; in what circumstances should one be called rather than a more formal inquiry; who should take that decision, and on terms of reference and appointment of chairs and members; whether there should be strict procedural reviews; what are the necessary elements for conducting an effective inquiry; what should be the role of the Government; who should be responsible for publishing reports and relevant documentation; what information should be available to the public after completion; and whether there should be a formal system for following up recommendations.

Click here to access the consultation. Responses are invited by 30 March 2018.


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