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The role of technology in Public Inquiries

23 May 2024

Public Inquiries are known for requiring a high volume of documentation. We explore the role that technology can play in ensuring that key documents are reviewed and acted upon effectively and efficiently at every stage. 

It is well known that Public Inquiries and indeed most independent investigations are document heavy. Often the period under investigation takes place over a number of years, involved multiple parties and comprises terabytes of data.

When people are involved in a public inquiry for the first time, what often surprises them is the sheer volume of information they need to digest and understand in order to play their part in the inquiry. Nowadays this might include not only written documents but diverse communication and collaboration tools like WhatsApp, Teams, Slack and SharePoint alongside audio, video and a wide range of other sources.

Responding to an inquiry within a tight deadline can be daunting when faced with such a significant amount of information. However, emerging technologies can play an important part in streamlining the process enabling you to respond appropriately and with full knowledge of the most important facts surrounding the inquiry.

It's important to point out from the outset, that the use of technology in the public inquiry process doesn't involve taking shortcuts and nor does it mean that specialist legal professionals are replaced by such technology. However, when work is managed and overseen by experienced legal professionals, with knowledge of the public inquiry process, the right technology will safely alleviate burden, increase accuracy and efficiency whilst surfacing the most impactful information earlier.

Technology can play a part in both the process of understanding the background information provided by the inquiry team and also the submission of any documents requested by them. The activities carried out by the technology can include:

  • Identifying the relevance and conceptual nature of documents at scale, surfacing conceptually similar documents and areas of complexity such as confidential, privileged or personal information
  • Analysing and reporting on information in a consistent, unified manner across a wide range of sources including audio, video and diverse communication and collaboration tools.
  • Collecting, categorising and summarising data to support the inquiry in a secure and compliant manner
  • Identifying – and where necessary redacting – sensitive or confidential data within documents 

Elements of artificial intelligence and automation are used to support legal specialists and clients throughout their preparation and response to the inquiry. The technology ensures that the work of the legal specialists involved in each matter is focused on the most important sources of information first. This helps make the best use of their time and delivers the best possible return on their legal skills and expertise.

Given the complex and specific nature of public inquiries, work should still be  quality checked by qualified legal specialists, but as the above examples demonstrate, some parts of the process lend themselves quite effectively to a degree of automation.

As technology continues to improve, year-on-year it's now important for all parties that it is used to make legal processes more effective within the tight deadlines that are imposed. The public inquiry process is necessarily very thorough and with inquiries now generating regular media coverage, it has never been more important to get things right.

With the right balance of technical sophistication and manual intervention from experienced legal specialists, technology enables clients to promptly provide only the most insightful information, protecting the public purse from undue burden and helping clients achieve cost effective, favourable outcomes from public inquiries.

Contact us if you'd like to know more about any aspect of the public inquiry process, including the role that technology plays in supporting our clients at every stage.

Further Reading