What are the PANEL principles in a public inquiry?

Written 5th July 2022 by Matthew Claughton

A human rights based approach involves ensuring that human rights principles are actually achieved and implemented. So, whereas human rights principles guide us on what should be done, adopting a human rights-based approach provides guidance on how human rights are achieved.

Common principles

Common principles to a human rights approach have been identified as the “PANEL” principles:
  • Participation
  • Accountability
  • Non-discrimination and equality
  • Empowerment
  • Legality
Specifics of any human rights approach will depend upon the issues in hand. A public inquiry is entitled to adopt PANEL principles.

UK Covid 19 Inquiry

For example within the Consultation to the UK Covid 19 Inquiry the issue and impact of the pandemic upon human rights and civil liberties was a theme throughout the process. In her response to the Consultation, Baroness Hallett acknowledged that respondents had ‘raised a wide range of issues that were perceived to impact on rights protected under the European Convention on Human Rights’ Responses included;
  • the initial pandemic response and whether it was consistent with the Article 2 duty to take appropriate preventative measures to safeguard lives; 
  • mandating vaccinations within certain sectors, and the requirements for vaccine certification for international travel; 
  • the closure of places of worship set against the right to freedom of religion; 
  • the enforcement of Covid-related restrictions on the freedom of assembly; 
  • freedom of speech, the flagging and removal of content from social media, and the perceived suppression of scientists who challenged prevailing opinion of Covid-related restrictions. 
Many respondents asked that the Inquiry applies a specific human rights focus to its investigations. However, Baroness Hallett took the view that the issue of human rights will be fully explored ‘as they arise in our work’ and, given the level of concern she concluded that, ‘in carrying out our work, the Inquiry will adopt the ‘PANEL’ principles of Participation, Accountability, Non-discrimination, Empowerment and Legality, as used in human rights investigations, to guide the Inquiry’s design’.

The five principles are explained in more detail below;


Everyone has the right to participate in decisions affecting their human rights. Participation must be active, free and meaningful, and give attention to issues of accessibility, including access to information in a form and a language which can be understood.


Accountability requires effective monitoring of compliance with human rights standards as well as effective remedies for human rights breaches. For accountability to be effective, there must be appropriate laws, policies, institutions, administrative procedures and mechanisms of redress in order to secure human rights.

Non-discrimination and equality

A human rights based approach means that all forms of discrimination in the realisation of rights must be prohibited, prevented and eliminated. Priority should be given to people in the most marginalised or vulnerable situations who face the biggest barriers to realising their rights.


Everyone is entitled to claim and exercise their rights and freedoms. Individuals and communities need to be able to understand their rights, and to participate fully in the development of policy and practices which affect their lives. 


A human rights based approach requires that the law recognises human rights and freedoms as legally enforceable entitlements, and the law itself is consistent with human rights principles.

The Olliers Inquiry and Inquest team

Olliers has many years of experience of representing individuals appearing as witnesses or core participants in public inquiries. We advise and represent throughout all stages of the process Whether you’re a witness, core participant or professionally involved in an inquiry, our team at Olliers is perfectly placed to guide you through what is always a complex and challenging process. We can help with:
  • whether there is likely to be an inquiry
  • whether to apply to be an ‘core participant’ in the inquiry
  • witness summonses
  • your right to see the evidence
  • the provision of witness statements
  • what will be made public if an inquiry takes place
  • challenging decisions made by the independent chair
  • instructing expert advocates to appear at court for you
  • how to protect your interests if you are concerned about giving evidence
  • advice about press coverage and the public nature of giving evidence at an inquiry
  • how to deal with other investigations such as those of the police, the IOPC or the Care Quality Commission
  • funding options for representation

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