Why Do Privy Counsellors Lead Inquiries?

After seven years, the committee of Privy Counsellors set up to investigate Britain’s role in the Iraq War has finally made its report. But why do Privy Counsellors lead inquiries in the first place?

The Privy Council oath includes a promise to “keep secret all matters committed and revealed unto you, or that shall be treated of secretly in Council,” though in practice, this secrecy only applies to matters that are explicitly discussed ‘on Privy Council terms.’ This allows Privy Counsellors to obtain classified information, which is why the Leader of the Opposition is customarily appointed to the Council.

Not every inquiry will require the services of Privy Counsellors. For example, Dame Lowell Goddard has not been appointed to the Council for her inquiry into child sexual abuse in England and Wales. Generally, Privy Counsellors will only be involved if the inquiry involves issues of national security.

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