The Saville Inquiry

It has taken six years, racked up 432 days of oral testimony from more than 900 witnesses, and cost more than 150m. The 42-day opening speech by Christopher Clarke QC, counsel to the Saville Inquiry, was the longest in English legal history only recently trumped by Gordon Pollock QCs 79-day opening salvo in the mammoth BCCI Liquidators v Bank of England litigation.

By the time you read this, the investigation into the killing by British paratroopers of 14 civil rights marchers on Bloody Sunday, 30 January 1972, will finally have drawn to a close.

For many, the sheer cost it has been the longest and most expensive legal inquiry in UK history will undermine whatever conclusion the inquiry is able to reach. It has certainly raised questions as to whether future inquiries should follow the same model. It would be amazing, for example, if tighter budgetary controls and stricter timetables were not imposed on future investigations.

Some wish to see such investigations conducted under the remit of a truth and reconciliation committee, along the lines of those instituted in post-apartheid South Africa.

Despite the criticism that is consistently levelled at the inquiry lawyers and their apparent capacity to gorge on the public purse, also carries a cost burden for the lawyers involved. Many went into the inquiry at the height of their careers and, while they have amassed considerable sums from it, most would actually have earned far more had they remained in the cut and thrust of private practice. By February 2004, Clarke, who is the head of Brick Court Chambers, had earned 3.7m for six years work. Yet, when Clarke signed up as counsel to the Saville Inquiry he was one of the leading lights of the commercial bar whose estimated annual earnings today would be in the region of 2m.

The detriment to any lawyers practice if tied up solely on one matter for six years is incalculable. Nonetheless, there will doubtless be many delighted to see that Sir Bill Morris inquiry into the Metropolitan police has averted itself from becoming a gravy train for lawyers by proceeding without any advocates at all.