“a rigorous and searching investigation..”

Having mentioned best practice in government, and being keen to see a light shone on the activities there, it seems like a good time to catch up on the latest news on the Attorney General’s Inquiry into Peter Hain’s, and/or senior civil servants’, activities in and around the illegal appointment of Bertha McDougall – who was, it appears, granted an extension to her appointment [who approved the affidavit? – Ed] – although a little bird tells me that this might have more to do with the staff and offices not being prepared for the haste speed of her initial appointment. Chris Thornton, in the Belfast Telegraph, focuses on some of that all-important detail on the terms and conditions for Peter Scott QC.. and it would seem to fall short of the “rigorous and searching investigation” which Mr Justice Girvan stated was needed..From the Belfast Telegraph report

The investigation into a possible NIO cover up is not a fully fledged legal inquiry, the Attorney General’s office has confirmed.

Peter Scott QC was appointed last week to review whether the NIO attempted to pervert the course of justice in a High Court case about the Victims’ Commissioner appointment.

But the barrister has not been given powers to compel witnesses or summon documents – and it remains unclear if he will interview Secretary of State Peter Hain and the senior civil servants at the centre of the affair.

A spokesman for Attorney General Lord Goldsmith said an advantage in Mr Scott conducting a review, rather than a full formal inquiry, is the ” relative speed” in producing a report.[added emphasis]

Mr Scott, who shared chambers with Lord Goldsmith when he was a practising barrister, was asked to review the case after Mr Justice Girvan said there was evidence the NIO deliberately misled the court.

Lord Goldsmith original comments to the House of Lords were noted here

The Attorney-General (Lord Goldsmith): Mr Justice Girvan referred certain matters to me, as Attorney-General for Northern Ireland and as,

“the guardian of the public interest in the due administration of justice”,

so that I may investigate concerns of his that arose during the conduct of judicial review proceedings in respect of the appointment of the interim Victims’ Commissioner. I have concluded that that is best done by appointing an independent person to carry out a review and report to me. Mr Peter Scott QC has agreed to carry out the review and will report back to me. He will commence immediately. The terms of reference we have agreed are as follows:

Further to the referral of papers to the Attorney-General by Girvan J and in the light of his judgments of 9 November and 20 November 2006:

to examine the concerns raised by the judge;to examine in particular the way in which the Government carried out their obligation of candour in the judicial review proceedings relating to the appointment of an interim Commissioner for Victims and Survivors; and to report to the Attorney-General with recommendations to prevent a recurrence of any shortcomings identified.[added emphasis]

A reminder of those reported terms again

But the barrister has not been given powers to compel witnesses or summon documents – and it remains unclear if he will interview Secretary of State Peter Hain and the senior civil servants at the centre of the affair.

As I said earlier, that would seem to fall short of the “rigorous and searching investigation” which Mr Justice Girvan stated was needed

[7] The Attorney General thus has the function of protecting the due administration of justice. I consider the proper course for this court to take is to refer the papers to him to decide what, if any, steps should be taken in the matter in the light of all the circumstances and in the light of all the papers before the court and any documents to which neither the court nor the applicant has access. In the Schedule I set out what appear to me to be the key questions which need to be addressed in a rigorous and searching investigation into the matter. The applicant who was the recipient of the misleading and incorrect information will of course have an interest in the proper conduct of the investigation.[added emphasis throughout]

And also from the Belfast Telegraph report

Mr Scott has declined to comment on the way he will conduct the review, and the Attorney General’s office said it could not specify whether or not he will interview Mr Hain and the civil servants involved in the matter.

Legal experts say there may be complications in any interview, because the people involved could demand legal representation.

However, that does not rule out further action if Mr Scott recommends it in his report.

A rigorous and searching investigation into the matter…