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An update following Hillsborough - a new ‘duty of candour’ for public officials?

Following the second Hillsborough inquest, a new draft bill entitled: ‘The Public Authorities Accountability Bill’ has been presented.

The recent success of the families’ campaign following the second Hillsborough inquest has led to the presentation of a new draft bill entitled: ‘The Public Authorities Accountability Bill’ or ‘Hillsborough Law’.

There already exists a duty of candour in statute following the Mid-Staffordshire inquiry (under Regulation 20 Health & Social Care (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014) in the context of healthcare. However, Hillsborough Law aims to ensure that all public authorities, officials and servants are under a duty to act in the interest of the public and do not succumb to “institutional defensiveness”.

Sections of the draft bill impose broad duties on public servants to be open and honest in discharging their general duties and in court proceedings, subject to few exceptions (e.g. criminal investigations). If enacted it could lead to criminal sanctions for public officials who are found to mislead the general public or media “intentionally or recklessly”. Further, the bill encompasses those involved at the time of an incident who may no longer be employed at the particular public institution and for omitting to provide witness statements and materials relating to their conduct and knowledge at the time of the incident.

The proposed penalties for being found guilty under the bill are unclear and have not been expressly stated, but they appear to envisage custodial sentences. The proposed bill will be reviewed in due course, however it remains to be seen whether it when it will be debated in Parliament and if it will ultimately be entered into the statute book.