Edinburgh tram inquiry: Public has a right to know more amid rising costs and delays – John McLellan

What the public does and doesn’t have a right to know cuts to the heart of what represents an open democracy, and ultimately we rely not only on politicians but judges to rule on what is permissible under the law.

The trams inquiry will cost as much as the Iraq war investigation, documents have revealed. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The trams inquiry will cost as much as the Iraq war investigation, documents have revealed. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

So, when judges themselves are caught up in controversy it becomes complicated, and it is easy for hares to run about conspiracies and cover-ups.

The absence of any information about the delayed publication of the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry report is a good example.

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Because the investigation is conducted by a very senior judge, the former Lord Advocate Lord Hardie, legitimate questions are airily dismissed by taxpayer-funded public relations people; it will take as long as it takes is what passes for an explanation.

It has taken a freedom of information request to discover that not only has it taken longer than the Chilcott Inquiry into the Iraq War, but will probably cost more, a staggering £13.1m by the end of the year.

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Edinburgh trams: Inquiry due to cost same amount as Iraq war investigation, docu...

But this is not seen as a reason to explain the hold-up, and as a judge-led inquiry, no-one can intervene.

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Then there is Sheriff Alistair Duff, arrested in December and charged in January. The nature of the charges is being withheld until he appears in court, and now there are demands for details to be released in the public interest amidst suspicions of special treatment from which others would not benefit.

Politicians might be regarded as fair game, but our right to know what judges are doing is just as important.