04 Mar 2020 Supporting Professional Development: Public Inquiry Training
One of our most challenging but enjoyable (in retrospect) internal training courses concerns the public inquiry process and the role of an expert witness.
This is a one day course that is delivered to new and recent recruits within BSG and occasionally to external audiences. It includes classroom teaching and a mock inquiry with an inspector, expert witnesses, cross examination and re-examination. To increase the sense of formality and to give attendees a more realistic sense of inquiry procedures the training is held in an unfamiliar venue set up to reflect a typical inquiry location and those attending are asked to dress appropriately as if they were involved in a real inquiry situation.
Overview of Training
The morning training session includes an initial overview of the public inquiry process, the rules and regulations that govern the inquiry procedure and timetable, and the key players from inspector to rule 6 parties and their roles. This is followed by an examination of two past cases BSG has been involved with based on proofs of evidence and statements of common ground that are provided in advance and attendees are required to familiarise themselves with.
During the afternoon session the attendees are split into two pre-selected teams for the mock inquiry. One person in the respective teams acts as expert witness and another as advocate on behalf of the developer, with the remainder of the team supporting and briefing on specific technical areas (net gain solutions, species survey and mitigation etc). The testimony given is subject to cross examination by an opposing advocate and the inspector, who are played by experienced BSG staff who have given evidence to public inquiries as expert witnesses. The questioning varies between being deliberately antagonistic, and attempting to draw the witness into making ill-advised or indefensible statements through apparently innocuous lines of enquiry. On conclusion of cross examination, there is re-examination of the evidence provided to identify its strengths and weaknesses.
The training helps familiarise staff with what can be an extremely adversarial process. It also demonstrates the importance of having a clear rationale that is carried through the entire data collection and assessment process, and the need for work to be completed in line with established principles, policy and scientific process. It is very difficult to predict where some of our projects may end up, and it is therefore necessary to maintain a very high standard in everything we do as ultimately if a project does not pass smoothly through the planning process our work will be examined in detail at public inquiry.
The training was led by BSG Ecology Director Dr Peter Shepherd. Peter has 25 years of experience acting as an expert witness at public inquiry on subjects including bats / ecology in relation to wind farms, the examination of Local Plan allocations, and with regard to infrastructure and commercial development. He has provided expert evidence in the form of written statements, hearings, Examinations in Public and public inquiries and is able to provide an experienced insight into the inquiry process and some of the pitfalls to avoid as an expert witness.
“The training was very effective. The most valuable element was probably mock Public Inquiry; it really brought home the knots you can get tied in if you don’t plan your survey work logically and defensibly, and gave a good impression of the intimidating environment that the expert witness can have to operate under” Philip Chapman, Ecologist
“The session was very well delivered and struck a balance between the likely pressures of being involved with a Public Inquiry while delivering learning in a relaxed and accessible way.” Alan Salkilld, Senior Ecologist
“Both the initial session explaining how Public Inquiry works and the role-play element were very useful. The former provided us with a good background to PI and helped those of us (relatively) new to consultancy to understand the process. However, I think the role-play element is what made the training stand out against other CPD we have done, as it highlighted how important it is to understand the audience that any work we undertake may end up in front of.” Charlotte Alsop, Ecologist