The investigation into the alleged parties that took place in Whitehall and Downing Street during various lockdowns has shone a light on the importance of appointing an appropriate investigator, and ensuring that this is given sufficient thought at the outset.
When the investigation was initially launched, it was led by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case. However, it wasn’t too long before he recused himself when reports came out that a Christmas event had been held in his office whilst London was subject to Covid restrictions. The investigation has now been taken over by Sue Gray, a senior civil servant. There are still some questions being raised around her impartiality though, as presumably she will at least at some level report into top civil servant Simon Case, and ultimately to our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.
These potentially thorny issues highlight some of the key considerations which should be taken into account when organisations are faced with grievances or allegations of wrongdoing which require investigation:
- The investigator must be impartial. Consider whether they have had any prior involvement with the subject or individuals involved which may render them an inappropriate person to run the investigation. A mere perception of bias will undermine the process from the start. Can the proposed investigator approach the investigation fairly and objectively? Might there be issues or concerns about their impartiality?
- The investigator must be sufficiently senior to conduct the investigation. The appropriate level will usually depend on the seniority of the individuals who are the subject of the complaint, but organisations’ internal policies may require someone of a certain level of seniority. In particular, if the people involved in the matter are senior themselves, it may be decided that only someone of an equivalent or higher grade would be appropriate to carry out the investigation.
- Does the proposed investigator have the skills and experience to do the job? If the investigator gets things wrong it will cause significant delays and undermine trust in the process.
- Would there be any benefit to having the investigation conducted by an external third party? Is the topic particularly sensitive, is there no one internal with enough time to do a thorough job or, where allegations are levelled against very senior individuals, is there no one sufficiently senior, experienced and impartial available?
If you have any questions about investigating allegations within your organisation, including appointing the right investigator, please contact your regular Lewis Silkin contact to discuss how we can help.
While many in government have praised Ms Gray's professionalism, she has still been given the difficult job of investigating her bosses - not only the prime minister, but also potentially Simon Case - the head of the civil service - who stepped down from leading the investigation after reports a party was held in his own office.