HC Deb 28 January 1947 vol 432 cc184-6W
Sir W. Smithers

asked me Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation if, in view of the fact that the chief inspector of air accidents proposes to conduct an inquiry into the air disaster in Kent on 11th January without judge or lawyers and that the reputation of many individuals is at stake, this form of inquiry has the approval of His Majesty's Government; and if he will take the necessary steps to ensure that all persons concerned shall not be deprived of their rights under Common Law and especially that evidence shall be taken on oath and that witnesses shall be liable to cross-examination.

Mr. Lindgren

The investigation now being conducted by the Chief Inspector of Accidents is in accordance with the Air Navigation (Investigation of Accidents) Regulations 1922, which were made under Section 12 of the Air Navigation Act 1920. This investigation is solely for the purpose of considering the technical cause of the accident, with a view to preventing a recurrence. It is in no sense a trial of legal issues. The Chief Inspector has no power under the regulations to require evidence to be given on oath; but he has a duty to conduct the investigation in such a manner that if a charge is made, or likely to be made, against any person that person shall have an opportunity of being present and of making any statement or giving any evidence and producing witnesses on his behalf.

As regards the second part of the Question, my noble Friend is not aware that the procedure in an investigation conducted in accordance with the regulations deprives any person of his Common Law rights. My noble Friend has power, under the regulations, to order that a formal investigation be held by a person, referred to as the court, to be appointed by him. The person appointed as the court would have the powers of a court of summary jurisdiction when acting as a court in the exercise of its ordinary jurisdiction, including power to administer an oath to a witness. Courts for the formal investigation of accidents to aircraft have been appointed on only three occasions since 1922 and my noble Friend feels that this procedure should be adopted only where the case presents problems of exceptional difficulty and public importance.