Chilcot facing legal action from families over Iraq report delay
Sir John Chilcot is facing legal action from bereaved families after again defying calls to set a timetable for publication of the Iraq Inquiry report.
The chairman said he understood the "anguish" of those who lost loved ones in the conflict, but argued that the probe was "unprecedented" in its scope.
He also defended the controversial Maxwellisation process, which means the inquiry seeks responses from everyone facing criticism before its conclusions are published.
The statement came amid renewed pressure to explain why the report has yet to emerge, six years after it was first commissioned by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Sir John said the inquiry expected to receive the last Maxwellisation responses "shortly" and would then be able to produce a timetable for the report.
However, Sir John's justification was immediately rejected by bereaved families, who have been threatening a judicial review to force him to publish.
Matthew Jury, of McCue & Partners, a law firm representing some of the families, said: "Sir John has refused the families' legal request to impose an effective timetable on the Maxwellisation Process, thereby preventing any deadline being set for publication of the report.
"All he has stated is that witnesses 'have not been given an open-ended timescale' to respond to criticisms.
"By itself this is meaningless, and the Inquiry refuses to disclose to the families anything that would explain it further.
"In the circumstances, the families' legal team, which includes Lord Brennan QC and Sarah Hannett of Matrix Chambers, will be taking further legal steps as are considered necessary and appropriate."
Sir Robert Francis, who led the inquiry into the Mid Staffs hospital scandal, warned those who faced criticism against being "uncooperative" in responding to Sir John.
In a letter to the Times, he said: "It is clearly important for the report of the Iraq Inquiry to be concluded as quickly as possible. It might be helpful if those who may be criticised were reminded that they have no right to dictate the content of the report, and are not in any event bound by any adverse judgment contained in it.
"Reports and their conclusions only retain the persuasiveness justified by their reasoning and content. They might also want to bear in mind that drawing attention to themselves by aggressive or uncooperative tactics is likely to do little to avert well-founded criticism and may even strengthen the grounds for it."
Parties to the Mid Staff inquiry were not shown drafts of the report before its publication because he feared "it would lead to a process looking unacceptably close to a negotiation" over the report's content, he added.
Crispin Blunt, who chairs the Commons foreign affairs select committee, said setting a deadline could "wreck" the inquiry.
He conceded that Sir John's statement that the final replies were expected "shortly" was "a bit of an elastic term" that should be clarified.
But the Conservative MP rejected calls for an end date to be imposed.
"We can do that but they we can wreck the inquiry in the process," he told BBC Radio 4's Today.
"The inquiry, which is independent and sets its own procedure, has determined how it is going to conduct itself.
"It is without any doubt I think in the last 10% of its inquiry time, I would sincerely hope after six years.
"So in that sense we would be getting very impatient - understandably as far as the families are concerned of course and indeed everyone else who has been waiting for this - at the end of a six-year process."