Venue, initial dates and witness protocols for Iraq Inquiry public hearings announced

The initial public hearings for the Iraq Inquiry will begin on Tuesday 24th November 2009 at the QEII conference centre in central London. The hearings will run until 17th December, break for Christmas, then start again during the week of 4th January 2010. It is expected they will run until early February. The exact dates of the sessions, along with the identity of witnesses and arrangements for public and media access, will be published nearer the time.

The Inquiry has also released the protocols for witnesses. The three documents include details on what the Inquiry will expect from witnesses, what they can expect from the Inquiry, the rules on whether witnesses should appear in public or in private, and how sensitive information will be treated. Also released today is a protocol between the Inquiry and the government on the treatment of sensitive written and electronic information.

“These protocols make it clear that the Inquiry is absolutely committed to ensuring that its proceedings are as open as possible. They also show that it is determined to approach its task fairly but thoroughly,” said Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot.

“They state that Ministers, senior military officers, members of the Senior Civil Service and their equivalents, and former holders of those posts, should all expect to give evidence in public. Only if there are genuine issues of national or personal security would such senior witnesses be justified in seeking to give some of their evidence in private.”

The protocols also explain to witnesses how they will be questioned and how they are expected to answer. The Privy Counsellors who make up the Inquiry committee will question the witnesses directly. Witnesses will be expected to answer questions themselves. No-one else will be allowed to speak for them. There will be no cross examination by lawyers acting on behalf of the Inquiry or of other parties.

The Cabinet Office, as the sponsoring department for the Iraq Inquiry, is simultaneously publishing a protocol for documents and other written and electronic information [External website]agreed between the Inquiry and Her Majesty’s Government. The protocol can be found on the (Cabinet Office website) [External website].