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Scotland will establish its own judge-led public inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic

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Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has announced that Scotland will establish its own judge-led public inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. In April this year, she expressed her preference for a statutory inquiry to be established on a UK-wide basis, but the announcement yesterday afternoon would seem to follow a meeting between Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish branch of the campaign group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice. The campaign group had pressed for the Inquiry to be established as soon as possible and has welcomed the announcement by the Scottish Government.

The announcement is likely to prompt further pressure on other devolved governments. In July this year, the Welsh Government voted against a motion for there to be a Wales-specific independent public inquiry into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. A UK-wide Public Inquiry was also welcomed by Darren Hughes, Director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, who published a statement on the same day saying that it was imperative that lessons were learned from the NHS’s response at a UK, Wales, regional and local level “and the interaction between each level”. However, calls for there to be a Wales-only inquiry were made just last week by the newly-formed Covid Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru group. The families feel that they deserve a Wales-specific inquiry.

Scotland’s commitment that the Inquiry will be up and running by the end of the year, the prompt publication of a document seeking draft aims and principles of the independent public inquiry, and the fact that discussions are already underway to identify and appoint a judge to Chair the Inquiry are also likely to lead to increased scrutiny of the UK’s Government decision not to establish the Inquiry until the Spring of 2022.

During the announcement yesterday afternoon, Ms Sturgeon confirmed that she would continue to liaise with the UK government about its own inquiry. The fact that there will be a separate Scottish inquiry gives rise to interesting legal and logistical questions which strike at the heart of how the inquiries will be run. We examined some of these interesting questions in an article ‘The UK and the devolved nations: Will there be an inquiry or inquiries into the response to Covid-19’ available on our dedicated Covid-19 Public Inquiry hub.