Publication of Local Authority Reports

Current project status

  • Initiation: Could include discussing scope and terms of reference with lead Government Department
  • Pre-consultation: Could include approaching interest groups and specialists, producing scoping and issues papers, finalising terms of project
  • Consultation: Likely to include consultation events and paper, making provisional proposals for comment
  • Policy development: Will include analysis of consultation responses. Could include further issues papers and consultation on draft Bill
  • Reported: Usually recommendations for law reform but can be advice to government, scoping report or other recommendations

This project is complete. The Government accepted but will not be implementing our recommendations

In this project, we considered whether changes were needed in the law relating to inquiries undertaken by local authorities.

In February 2000 Sir Ronald Waterhouse published the results of the inquiry he chaired into the abuse of children in council homes in North Wales. He was concerned there might be circumstances where local authorities might feel unduly constrained by threat of legal action or loss of insurance cover from making public the results of inquiries conducted by them, or on their behalf. As a result, we were asked to look at the legal issues.

The project

In April 2002, we published a consultation paper, “The Publication of Local Authority Reports” (CP163). Having analysed the responses, we published our final report, “In the Public Interest: Publication of Local Authority Reports” (Law Com 289), together with a draft Bill, in July 2004.

Our recommendations

In our report, we made two principal recommendations:

  • a new defence to claims in defamation
  • a new statutory power of inquiry for local authorities

A new defence to claims in defamation

Where a local authority makes public a report of an inquiry into a failure in local authority services, the authority should be able to rely on a new defence to any claim in defamation. But the defence would only be available if either the publishing authority is satisfied that the inquiry and report were fair, or they were in fact fair.

A new statutory power of inquiry for local authorities

The local authority would have the power to establish an inquiry, which could itself apply to the High Court for an order compelling a witness to give evidence. This would achieve a balance between enabling democratically elected bodies to account to their electorate for failures in performance through an effective inquiry, but without putting powers of compulsion in the hands of a non-judicial body.


Documents and downloads

Project details

Area of law

Public law