Report No. 24
7. Defects and drawbacks of inquiries by Commissions.-
The working of the laws relating to inquiries by Commissions or Tribunals in various countries has revealed several defects and drawbacks.
First, in the absence of specific clear-cut provisions for the purpose, there is a danger of inquiries being instituted in relation to matters in which the remedies available under the ordinary law are adequate and effective. Thus, in England, in the famous Waters case an elaborate and expensive inquiry was embarked upon to investigate into allegations of a merciless assault by two constables on a young boy. Indeed, one of the criticisms directed in Parliament against the Bill leading to our Act was that it did not precisely define the circumstances in which a Commission may be set up.
Secondly, the powers usually conferred on Commissions are felt to be rather draconian in practice. When the Waters case was debated upon in the House of Lords,1 some of the Members went to the extent of likening Tribunals under the English Act to the Court of Star Chamber. Similarly, in the course of the debates on our own Commissions of Inquiry Bill in Parliament the provisions as to requisition of information and search of premises were characterised by some members as drastic.
Thirdly, a Commission may virtually lead a person to make self-incriminating statements. In regard to the procedure adopted by the investigating committee of the American Congress into the gambling activities of one Nelson, Judge David Bezelon remarked caustically thus:
"Nelson's freedom of choice has been dissolved in a brooding omnipresence of compulsion. The Committee threatened prosecution for contempt if he refused to answer, for perjury if he lied and for gambling activities if he told the truth."
Fourthly, inasmuch as a Commission may receive hearsay evidence at secondhand or third-hand, its findings on the conduct of persons involved in the case may cause irretrievable damage to those persons and may even ruin them for life. In this connection, a passage from the speech in the House of Commons of Sir Alfred Butt who was involved in the "Budget Leakage Inquiry"2 in 1936 may be quoted:
"I would ask right hon. and hon. Members to visualise the position in which I now find myself. I have been condemned, and apparently I must suffer for the rest of my life from a finding against which there is no appeal, upon evidence which apparently does not justify a trial, and there is now no method open to me by which I can bring the true and full facts,before a jury of my fellow-men If any good may come from this, the most miserable moment of my life, I can only hope that my position may do something to prevent any other person in this country being subject to the humiliation and wretchedness which I have suffered, without trial, without appeal and without redress."
Finally, in a number of cases inquiries may not result in any tangible results. Thus in England no prosecution seems to have ever been launched as a result of a tribunal of inquiry and the position seems to be hardly different in our country.
1. Parliamentary Debates, Lords, 1958-59, Vol. 216, pp. 454-478.
2. Parliamentary Debates, Commons (1958-59), Vol. 600, John Waters (Tribunal of Inquiry), p. 206.