Different types of inquiry available to Government to investigate Savita case
Tribunals, commissions and private inquiries could all be used
A number of alternative forms of inquiry, both public and private, are available to the Government in investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of Savita Halappanavar. They are:
Private internal inquiry
The investigation approved by Government is one that has been commissioned by the HSE and will report to the HSE national director of quality and patient safety Dr Philip Crowley.
Led by London obstetrician Prof Sir Sabaratnam Arukumaran, the seven-member team is expected to take three months to complete its report.
This may include a review of case notes, interviews with medical personnel, an examination of the hospital’s internal standard practices, the existence of guidelines and if they were complied with.
There would also examine the type of antibiotics used as well as how septicaemia was managed at UCHG.
Former master of the National Maternity Hospital Dr Peter Boylan said yesterday that the medical charts would give clear documentation and a “timeline to an hour of what happened”. Those involved could then be interviewed.
However, Praveen Halappanavar’s solicitor Gerard O’Donnell said this type of inquiry was not acceptable and there was a need for a public inquiry where witnesses were called, evidence was given under oath and then subjected to cross-examination.
Dr Boylan yesterday disagreed. He said the inquiry should be done in private initially with its findings made public. “If it’s a public inquiry it will descend into a bit of circus because there will be misinterpretations of evidence given, which will be bandied about in the media.”
The independent health safety body Hiqa has statutory powers that would allow to it launch an inquiry.
Tribunal of Inquiry
The most obvious form of public inquiry but also tediously slow and prohibitively expensive. The enormous costs and length of high-profile tribunals have made them unpopular with politicians and the public.
Under the Tribunal of Inquiry Act 1921, tribunals are established by the Oireachtas on a matter of public interest and their purpose is to establish facts. Usually chaired by a judge, they have the same power and rights as the High Court. They are essentially public in nature.
The costs are astronomical, including the fees of their own legal teams. Two Moriarty lawyers were paid almost €10 million each for their work on the tribunal.
Both it and the planning tribunal were in existence for well over a decade. Moriarty may end up costing the State €120 million: the planning tribunal up to €300 million. Even with straightforward terms of reference, they can still take a long time.
The Smithwick Tribunal, investigating allegations of collusion in the murder of two RUC officers, has been in existence for seven years. A tribunal of inquiry into the death of Savita Halappavanar would take several years, at least, before reporting.
Commission of Investigation
One of the successes of the tenure of Michael McDowell as minister for justice. Set up under a 2004 Act, the commissions have proved to be much less expensive and much speedier than unwieldy tribunals. There is much greater flexibility on procedures but the main distinction is that it carries out its investigation in private.
Commissions have been set up to inquire into a wide range of matters of urgent public interest including that looking into the responses of the Archdiocese of Dublin and the Diocese of Cloyne to allegations of sexual abuse; the commission that investigated the reasons a Dublin heroin addict Dean Lyons confessed to murders he did not commit; and the investigation by Peter Nyberg into the regulatory and political failures that led to the collapse of Irish banks.
The terms can also be different. Nyberg’s investigation was based on two scoping reports, by Patrick Honohan and by Max Watson and Klaus Regling.
The Dublin and Cloyne investigation selected a “representative sample of complaints or allegations of child sexual abuse” made between 1975 and 2004.
The Nyberg report cost €1.2 million, while the Dean Lyons investigation cost just under €1 million. Both were completed within months.