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Opening Statement of The Bloody Sunday Inquiry, 3 April 1998

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Opening Statement by Lord Saville
The Bloody Sunday Inquiry
(Friday 3 April 1998)


This is an Inquiry into what happened on the streets of this city on Sunday 30th January 1972. On that day, through gunfire on those streets, 13 people died and a similar number were wounded. Whatever conflicting views are held about the events of that day, it has become known as "Bloody Sunday," so it seems to us that this Inquiry should be called the "Bloody Sunday Inquiry."

Today is the formal opening day of the Inquiry. We are here to introduce ourselves, to outline our task as we see it and to explain how we propose to set about that task.

My name is Mark Saville. I am an English Law Lord, one of the judges who sits in the House of Lords as the highest court of appeal in the United Kingdom. I am presiding as Chairman of the Inquiry. I have two colleagues sitting with me, Sir Edward Somers, a New Zealander who was formerly a judge of the Court of Appeal of New Zealand, and Mr. Justice William Hoyt, a Canadian judge who is presently Chief Justice of the Province of New Brunswick.

The Secretary to the Inquiry is Ann Stephenson, a senior administrator in the Department of Health who has been seconded to us for the duration of the Inquiry. Ann Stephenson is in charge of the overall administration of the Inquiry.

The Solicitor to the Inquiry is Philip Ridd, a senior legal adviser to the Inland Revenue who has also been seconded to us for the duration of the Inquiry. His chief job is to co-ordinate the gathering and collating of the evidence to be put before us. Both Ann Stephenson and Philip Ridd will have assistants to help them carry out what undoubtedly will be very heavy tasks.

Christopher Clarke QC is Counsel to the Inquiry. Alan Roxburgh, another barrister, will work with him as his Junior. Their primary job is to assist the Inquiry by presenting the evidence to us and questioning the witnesses on our behalf.

The Tribunal, Counsel, the Inquiry Solicitor, and the Inquiry Secretary all have the same duty. That duty, and the object of the Inquiry, is to seek the truth about what happened on Bloody Sunday. We intend to carry out that duty with fairness, thoroughness and impartiality.

I was the person responsible for selecting Christopher Clarke QC, Philip Ridd and Ann Stephenson to help the Tribunal. So far as Christopher Clarke is concerned, I chose someone who is among the most senior and respected members of the English Bar. He in turn selected Alan Roxburgh as someone in whom he has from experience complete confidence. So far as the Inquiry Solicitor and the Inquiry Secretary are concerned, I chose people who are also of proven ability. They are civil servants whose work has been entirely unrelated to any of the matters with which this Inquiry will be concerned. I am certain that they will be able to perform the duty that I have described.

I took the responsibility of appointing these people before my colleagues were appointed, in order to get the Inquiry under way as soon as possible. However, Sir Edward Somers and Mr Justice Hoyt have had the opportunity of considering the appointments that I have made and I am glad to tell you that, having met the other members of the team, they have both expressed complete satisfaction with those that I chose.

As to the Tribunal itself, I accepted the chairmanship at the invitation of the Lord Chancellor and was consulted by him over the appointment of my colleagues. I should make clear that in no shape, manner or form has the Government sought in any way to suggest how we should conduct the Inquiry or indicated what conclusions it would like us to reach. Apart from the Lord Chancellor, I have not in fact discussed any aspect of this Inquiry with any other member of the Government.

I believe that we are fortunate to have Sir Edward Somers and Mr Justice Hoyt as members of the Tribunal. They are people whose reputation for thoroughness, fairness and impartiality cannot be bettered. We should be very grateful indeed that they have agreed to come across the world to sit on this Inquiry.

The Inquiry is set up under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. Our terms of reference are to inquire into:

"the events of Sunday, 30th January 1972 which led to loss of life in connection with the procession in Londonderry on that day, taking account of any new information relevant to events on that day."

There has already been one Inquiry into Bloody Sunday, conducted by Lord Widgery, who was then the Lord Chief Justice. This took place immediately after the events in question. The manner in which that Inquiry was conducted and the conclusions that it reached have been the subject of comment and criticism.

The present Inquiry is not an investigation into how Lord Widgery conducted his Inquiry. We are not sitting as a court of appeal from the Widgery Inquiry. It is very important for all concerned to bear this in mind, since otherwise there is a risk that we shall be diverted from our real task, which is not to enquire into what happened at the Widgery Inquiry, but what happened on Bloody Sunday. Having said this, however, the fact remains that we shall be looking into the same events as those Lord Widgery was asked to consider. We shall be looking at all relevant material that was available at the time, whether or not it was considered or mentioned at the Widgery Inquiry, as well as any material that has subsequently come to light or which the present Inquiry may itself reveal.

Our task is to try to find out what took place in this city that Sunday afternoon. It seems to us that we cannot simply try to reconstruct events as they occurred on the streets that day, without paying proper regard to what led up to those events. Thus we shall be looking at the background to Bloody Sunday to the extent necessary to enable us to reach as informed a conclusion as possible.

We have already started collecting material and we expect that a lot more will become available in the immediate future. We shall undoubtedly need the help of all concerned to ensure that we look at everything that is relevant to our task. For this reason the Inquiry Secretary is writing to those we think may be able to assist us, but it is important that all who consider that they have useful information should contact the Secretary as soon as possible. This can be done by writing to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, PO Box 18-031 London, or by using the e-mail facilities of the Internet Web Site which, as we explain later in this statement, we have set up for the purpose of this Inquiry.

We should emphasise at this point that this is an Inquiry, not a trial. Trials are in the main conducted on an adversarial basis, i.e. where each party puts forward its case and seeks to answer the case put against it; where the tribunal acts as a sort of referee, requiring the parties to abide by the rules; and where, at the end of the day, the tribunal decides the case in favour of one side or the other on the basis of the material the parties have put before it.

An Inquiry like the present Inquiry is quite different. Here the Tribunal takes the initiative in trying to ascertain the truth. Unlike an adversarial contest, it is for the Tribunal to seek all the relevant material. Its task is not to decide the matter in favour of one party or side or another. Indeed, from the point of view of the Tribunal, there are no parties or sides. There will, of course, be those who have material evidence to give or who have a legitimate interest in challenging such evidence, but the Tribunal will not treat them as sides or parties in an adversarial contest, but rather as a means of seeking out the truth.

It follows from this that it is for the Tribunal to decide what material it should consider and what witnesses it should call to give evidence. It is also for the Tribunal to decide how to conduct the proceedings. We turn therefore to outline what we propose to do in relation to these matters. However, we should make clear that we want to adopt methods best suited to carrying out the Inquiry in the fairest, most thorough and impartial way possible, without, of course, incurring unnecessary delay or expense. Thus if people think that improvements can be made to these proposals, then they should make their views known in writing to the Inquiry Secretary. Again, this should be done as soon as possible, so that the Tribunal has the opportunity to consider any such suggestions.

As we have said, we are already collecting material and repeat our request for those who believe they can help us to get in touch with the Inquiry Secretary without delay. We have also been considering the question of witnesses and request those who consider that they have material evidence to give (or who know of people they consider are likely to be able to give such evidence) also to contact the Inquiry Secretary as soon as possible. We should make clear at this point that we do not intend to apply the strict rules of evidence, though of course the weight that we are likely to give to any particular piece of evidence may well depend on how direct and first hand it is.

The statute under which this Inquiry is established gives the Tribunal the power to require persons to give evidence or to produce documents. We hope that it will not be necessary to invoke this power, but we shall do so if we conclude that our search for the truth requires it.

In this connection it would be foolish for us to ignore the fact that there are allegations that some of those concerned in the events of Bloody Sunday were guilty of very serious offences, including murder. Whether there is any substance in those allegations remains, of course, to be seen. All who give evidence to an Inquiry like this have the same rights and privileges as those who give evidence before an ordinary court, including the privilege against self-incrimination. We have considered whether to recommend to the Attorney-General at the outset that there should be an immunity from prosecution for all who give evidence to this Inquiry. The reason for doing this would be to encourage people to come forward and to speak frankly with no inhibitions. We have decided, however, not to make such a blanket recommendation at this time, but instead to look again at the question in the course of carrying out our investigations, when it may be possible to see more clearly whether the grant of immunity in any given case, or group of cases, is necessary for the purpose of carrying out the object of the Inquiry.

Some who may have material evidence to give to the Inquiry may have concerns about their personal security. Where we are satisfied that there are proper grounds for such concern, we shall make appropriate arrangements for their safety.

Where appropriate, the Inquiry Solicitor (or those assisting him) will seek to interview and to take statements from those concerned. In particular, we shall be seeking written statements from those we consider likely to be called to give oral evidence. In our view all those we wish to interview or from whom we wish to take statements should have, if they so wish, an independent lawyer present to advise them in their own interests. In appropriate cases we shall recommend that the cost of such legal assistance be met from public funds.

Apart from legal assistance during interviews and while statements are taken, there is the question of legal representation at the Inquiry. While remembering that this is an inquisitorial Inquiry and not an adversarial contest, and that those giving evidence will be called to do so by the Tribunal and questioned on behalf of the Tribunal by our Counsel, we fully appreciate that many of those concerned will have strong grounds for asking for legal representation. Indeed, as a matter of fairness, it seems to us that those against whom serious allegations are likely to be made must be given a proper opportunity to challenge what is said against them and to do so, if this is what they want, through lawyers representing their interests. However, we would not necessarily confine legal representation to those in that position, if we were satisfied that our search for the truth in a fair, thorough and impartial way dictated that others should also be legally represented.

In these circumstances we would invite all those who wish to be legally represented at the Inquiry to write to the Inquiry Solicitor requesting that they be given the right to legal representation, and setting out in full the reasons why they consider that their request should be granted. If those making such requests also consider that the cost of legal representation should be met from public funds, then in addition they should set out in writing the reasons why they take this view. The Tribunal will consider all such requests and may require further information before giving its ruling, which we intend to do publicly in writing.

Many people were caught up in Bloody Sunday. Many are likely to have material evidence to give. Some may feel that they should be legally represented at the hearings. At the same time, it seems to us that the opportunity must be taken for those with similar interests to join together for the purposes of legal representation. If their legitimate interests can be properly met by joint legal representation, there would simply be no point in having separate legal representation. We would therefore urge all those concerned who have similar interests to consider together how best to deal with this point. The Inquiry Solicitor will be ready and willing to discuss the matter with those concerned if that is thought to be of assistance. We should make clear that when deciding who should have legal representation and whether we should recommend that the cost of such representation should be met out of public funds, we shall take into account whether separate representation is really necessary.

It is important that we deal with the question of legal representation without delay. Thus we would urge all concerned to consider what we have said on this subject and to communicate with the Inquiry Solicitor as soon as possible.

It seems to us that we shall need some time to collect and collate what will clearly be a considerable amount of evidence. Apart from factual evidence, we may find it helpful to seek expert evidence in addition to that which we understand has already been obtained by others. Those concerned, including in particular those against whom serious allegations are made, will need time to consider the relevant material that we have collected. Furthermore, it will be necessary for us to consider a number of preparatory matters, which may involve preliminary hearings, though we hope and expect to be able to deal with most matters in writing. We have concluded that it would not be fair or feasible to start the full hearings in this Inquiry until the autumn. This will give everyone a reasonable opportunity for proper preparation. We shall, of course publish the exact dates for the hearings as far in advance as possible.

Our present intention is to begin those hearings in public in this city, indeed in this hall. We are presently minded to sit about four days a week, leaving at least a day (probably Friday), for assessing what has happened and for preparing what is to come. However, we propose to be flexible about our sitting hours and days, and will adapt these as best we may to make the hearings as convenient as possible for those taking part. For example, we would certainly consider some evening sittings, if this seemed to be a helpful thing to do.

We also expect that some hearings will take place in London, since this appears likely to be the most convenient course to take for some of those concerned.

The hearings in this city will start with an opening statement by our Counsel, who will set out in detail the material we have collected to date, identify the issues as we see them, and generally set the scene for the oral evidence, which will follow. During the course of the next few months we shall be considering in what order we should take the witnesses, and will of course liaise with all concerned in working out how best to organise this and similar matters.

As we have already indicated, those we invite to give evidence will already have been asked to provide written statements to the Tribunal. The Tribunal will read and consider such statements and the other material collected for the Inquiry (which will include, of course, statements previously made) before the full hearings start.

Before they are questioned by our Counsel, witnesses may wish to supplement orally what they have said in writing, for example if something has come to light after giving their written statements. However, we shall make every effort to advise witnesses in advance of all matters which they may wish to consider, so that they have an opportunity to set down in writing all that they want to say before they are questioned. We shall allow supplementary oral evidence before oral questioning if we are persuaded that this is required in the interests of fairness, thoroughness and impartiality.

If likewise persuaded, we shall also permit those who wish to do so to make short opening statements (we would expect through their lawyers) at the beginning of the hearing. Again, however, we should emphasise that this is an Inquiry, not an adversarial trial. It follows that any such statements must be exclusively directed to assisting the Tribunal in performing its duty, rather than seeking to serve other interests. There would also be no point in repeating matters that are going to be covered by the opening statement of our Counsel. Thus we ask those who wish to make opening statements to inform us in advance, giving full written details of what they wish to say and their grounds for wishing to say it, so that we can decide whether or not (or to what extent) any such statements will assist in carrying out the object of the Inquiry.

After our Counsel has questioned the witness we shall permit further questioning by others, but once again only if we are persuaded that this is required in the interests of fairness, thoroughness and impartiality. The right to conduct further questioning is, of course, very likely to be granted to those facing serious allegations.

When we have concluded the oral hearings our Counsel will make a closing statement, drawing together all that we have heard and considered. Before that closing statement, and subject to the same considerations as those applying to opening statements, we shall permit other closing statements. We shall then form our conclusions and write our report.

In this statement we have emphasised the need for fairness, thoroughness and impartiality. Those requirements must not only be met throughout the Inquiry, but must also be seen to be met. This we shall endeavour to do.

The statute under which we are acting allows us to exclude the public or any portion of the public from any part of the proceedings, if we consider that it would be in the public interest for us to do so, but we shall need very strong grounds indeed to take that course, and in the event that we did, we would publish our reasons for doing so. We also intend to put all relevant material in the public domain as the Inquiry proceeds, unless again we are persuaded (for compelling reasons that we would publish) that it would be in the public interest to take a different course. It follows that those who wish to bring matters to the attention of the Tribunal must realise that we intend to make public anything of relevance that they tell us, including the source of such material, unless there are compelling public interest reasons not to do so.

To assist in the public nature of this Inquiry, we intend to take full advantage of Information Technology. We have set up our own dedicated Web Site on the Internet, where we propose to publish details of the relevant material collected and considered, together with daily transcripts of the proceedings as they get under way, of any preliminary rulings that we make and like matters. For example, the full text of this Statement will appear on that Site. The address of the Web Site is [Later changed to:]

We also intend to use real time transcription for the hearings. Real time transcription involves the recording on computers of what is said at the hearings, as it is said. The words spoken appear on monitors, virtually simultaneously. Those using the system can at the same time make private notes on their own screens. The computers sort and retrieve what is recorded, as required by each user. This greatly reduces the time needed to note up, analyse or keep abreast of the evidence as well as the need for multiple copies of bulky paper transcripts. Experience in long cases has demonstrated that real time transcription saves very considerable time and trouble for all concerned and is a substantial improvement on traditional methods of keeping a record.

When we have dealt with the question of legal representation, those legal representatives who going to take part, but who are unfamiliar with the use of this technology, should get in touch with the Inquiry Secretary, who will be able to advise them on how to prepare to use it.

This opening statement is being televised. Since we intend to use our Internet Web Site to provide a ready means of following what is going on, the rest of the hearings will not be televised.

Later this morning the Tribunal will give a Press Conference, at which the media can put questions to us. After that we propose to go onto the streets where people were killed and wounded on Bloody Sunday. An officer from the City Engineer's Department has kindly agreed to accompany us, in order to point out the important places and the main changes that have taken place since 1972. This will not be an evidence gathering exercise, but rather a first step in being able more clearly to understand the evidence of what took place on Bloody Sunday. We expect that this will not be the last time we look at these streets for the purpose of this Inquiry.

We are enquiring into matters that have given rise to very strong emotions. Those emotions are wholly understandable, for whatever the circumstances, people were killed and wounded. There are also, undeniably, strong political views. Furthermore, the events with which we are concerned took place 26 years ago. We therefore have a very difficult task in trying to find the truth. We need the assistance of all concerned, particularly those who were there on that day. We ask them all to do their best to help us to seek the truth about what happened on Bloody Sunday.


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