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8th March 2024, 21:04

Bill to give Government powers to suspend or end inquiries; Number Six has 'no intention' of stopping McGrail Inquiry

Published by GBC News

A new bill would grant the Government the power to suspend or end inquiries.

The new legislation would underpin future inquiries - and would be able to be applied to the one already underway, into the early retirement of former Police Commissioner, Ian McGrail.

In a statement released by his lawyers, Ian McGrail says he is concerned by the timing of the bill.

However, Number Six says it has "no intention" of stopping the inquiry.

According to Number Six, the bill for a new Inquiries Act is "an almost identical carbon copy ... of the UK Inquiries Act, with changes only as necessary for the local Gibraltar Constitutional context".

It highlights that the UK Act contains the same provisions over the ending of inquiries.

The new Gibraltar law would grant the Government the power to suspend an inquiry for as long as is deemed necessary to complete any other investigation or civil or criminal proceedings.

It also allows the Government to end an inquiry before it has fulfilled its terms of reference.

In both cases, the Government would have to set out its reasons, consult the Chairperson, and lay a notice before Parliament.

Existing local legislation is silent on ending inquiries. The new bill also codifies existing powers and practices.

In response to GBC questions, the Government says it's making these changes now to ensure all current and future inquiries benefit from a "more modern piece of legislation".

A spokesperson said Number Six has "no intention" of stopping the inquiry into the early retirement of former Police Commissioner, Ian McGrail.

The Chronicle reports that the Government intends to proceed with the Bill at next week's session of Parliament.

It quotes a Number Six spokesperson saying the Government did not consider it appropriate to consult with the McGrail Inquiry chairman, as the change to the law is not specific to this inquiry.

For his part, the former Commissioner of Police, Ian McGrail, says he's concerned by the timing of what he calls a radical overhaul of the legislation, just four weeks before the main hearing is set to start.

He draws attention to the role of the Chief Minister in the inquiry; Fabian Picardo is a core participant.

Mr McGrail says he would strongly contest any attempts to prevent the inquiry from proceeding by the use of new statutory powers.

He likens this to the power to terminate legal proceedings by a nolle prosequi, which he says has already been used in relation to a related police investigation.

Mr McGrail highlights a recent ruling by the inquiry's chairman, Sir Peter Openshaw, that he will investigate the circumstances under which witness statements came to be made.

The Chairman had been asked to rule on whether the inquiry should investigate allegations that incentives were offered in exchange for evidence.

Mr McGrail says Gibraltar's reputation as a democratic jurisdiction requires that the inquiry should proceed without any interference or hindrance, without the risk of the Government using the powers, "which it wants to bestow upon itself", to suspend or terminate the inquiry.