A landmark court ruling could force the Commission for Health Improvement to hold its investigations in public.

The Department of Health and CHI are considering their positions after health secretary Alan Milburn lost a legal battle to keep private his inquiry into how the NHS and public authorities failed to stop GP Harold Shipman murdering 15 patients.

The High Court ruled that Mr Milburn should reconsider his decision to hold the Laming inquiry behind closed doors, saying this contravened Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights - due to be incorporated into UK domestic law this autumn.

Earlier this month Mr Milburn ordered CHI to look at the case of Loughborough GP Dr Peter Green, convicted of indecently assaulting nine male patients.

Solicitor Belinda Moore, a human rights specialist at law firm Mills and Reeve, which advises trusts, said: 'This decision could indicate a move towards all internal and external inquiries and investigations being subject to public scrutiny in the way their terms of reference are originated. 'The 'ethos' behind CHI 'was that its processes should be open and accessible. It is intended that its findings are made public'.

While there 'does not appear' to be any provision to hold investigations in public, CHI could 'fall victim to a judicial review of its processes' in the light of the latest Shipman ruling', Ms Moore said.

In the High Court, Lord Justice Kennedy said that Mr Milburn's decision to hold the Shipman inquiry in private contravened the Human Rights Act because 'it constitutes unjustified governmental interference with the reception of information that others wish or may be willing to impart'.

A spokesperson for CHI said: 'CHI is going to be as open and transparent as it can be about its reviews but we are in discussions with the DoH about this.

At the moment our investigations are not in public but we will be discussing what this (judgement) means for CHI as a whole.'

A DoH spokesperson said the government had 'great sympathy' for the families of Dr Shipman's victims.

'From the outset, we have wanted to make sure we learn the lessons from the Shipman case as quickly and effectively as possible.'