Professor John Cooper was not impressed by the MPs’ questioning of James Murdoch. “Sorely lacking in forensic rigour,” he said, “the culture, media and sport select committee resumed its cross-examination of Murdoch – and they were not up to it.”
He goes on:
The task of questioning was given to MPs with little or no forensic training. As a result, an important moment in political history, but more crucially public accountability, was gone.
Forensic examination is a trained specialism, often honed by years of experience. It is not the same skillset as making speeches in parliament. Key principles, for instance, in the art of cross-examination, are: don’t argue with the witness; ringfence the witness, anticipating and sealing off escape routes; build up to the final punch; listen to answers and follow on.
The latter stricture was a major flaw in the questioning of witnesses. There seemed little close co-ordination between members of the select committee to follow a sustained line of questioning; rather, each member seemed to have their own agenda and, at times, competing strategies. But most damning was the lack of focus and incision of the cross-examination, ultimately descending into inevitable frustration and emotional outbursts about the mafia.
Poor questioning skills, no co-ordination of questions and no probing and follow-up to the previous questioner’s point. Add to that lots of grandstanding and playing to the gallery and Mr Murdoch was looking at an easy ride.
I’m glad someone else has noticed. Poor skills at an individual level combined with a lack of planning and cohesion at team level makes for amateurish results in any activity. Parliamentary committees are no different.