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Crest’s Senior Associate John O’Brien CBE gives evidence to the House of Lords Statutory Inquiries Committee

Inquiries Perspective


Harry Ogden, Senior Analyst

Tuesday 19 March 2024

The effectiveness and efficiency of statutory public inquiries is the subject of a new inquiry itself by the House of Lords. Given our experience and expertise, and our commitment to the sector to continue to innovate and improve practice, we were delighted that our Senior Associate John O’Brien was recently invited to give evidence.

John was previously Secretary to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), with responsibility for its administration and governance, including the creation of the ground-breaking Truth Project.

Our story of supporting and advising inquiries began at IICSA when John commissioned us to help launch the inquiry and later pilot the Truth Project, which heard from more than 6,000 victims and survivors of abuse.

Following his retirement from the civil service, John joined us to support our inquiries and reviews practice and share his unique experience with clients and others with an interest in public inquiries - including the House of Lords committee.

During his oral evidence session, which you can watch on Parliament TV here, John summarised his experience of the IICSA and stressed the importance of building trust at the start of an inquiry (you can read how highly the public values this in polling we have conducted previously). John suggested that support from an independent unit could make a valuable contribution to getting an Inquiry off the ground.

John’s other key points included the importance of engaging with victims and survivors quickly, and providing alternatives to the formal legal process to them - in the case of IICSA, through the Truth Project. 

He also referenced the need to consider the individual experience of the victims and survivors and not merely view the participants as sources of evidence, stating that the victims interviewed wanted the Inquiry to recognise them as “survivors” rather than “witnesses”. He concluded that his main recommendation for future inquiries would be to give people “basic trauma-informed training before they start an inquiry”. You can read about the training we provide to all our team who work on inquiries and reviews here

Other witnesses alongside John included Mark Fisher CBE, former Secretary to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, also another former client of ours, and Brian Stanton, former Solicitor to the Infected Blood Inquiry.

All agreed on the importance to the public, and the victims and survivors of inquiries, of getting inquiry recommendations implemented and the challenge this can present. John explained that the majority of the 20 recommendations IICSA made in its final report had not yet been implemented by the government. Crest recently supported an event in Parliament, organised by The Survivors Trust and attended by the Home Secretary, the Rt Hon James Cleverly MP, to coordinate action on this matter.

You can find out more about our inquiries and reviews practice here and about our network of senior associates like John who bring unique experience and insight of leadership, governance and policy to our staff and clients here.

To get in touch with John, please email  

At Crest, our associates offer their unique experiences of leading programmes of work across the crime and justice sector as we continue to grow our public inquiries and independent review practice. John specifically provides insights into inquiry work involving vulnerable or traumatised people. 


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