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On 12 May 2021, the Prime Minister announced that he was establishing an independent, statutory public inquiry into the government’s handling of Covid-19; likely to be one of the most complex inquiries in recent times. As an inquiry established under the Inquiries Act 2005, the Chair (and Panel if one is appointed) will have the power to compel individuals to provide evidence, with witnesses giving evidence under oath during public hearings, making it open to the additional scrutiny that this process brings. The Prime Minister indicated that the Inquiry would start in Spring 2022.

The announcement did not give any indication as to the scope of the Inquiry, other than there being an expectation that the Government would consult with their counterparts in the devolved administrations about where there are areas for shared learning. The announcement only relates to an inquiry in England, but there is still the scope for this to be UK-wide, if that can be agreed. The devolved administrations have already made commitments to hold inquiries, so the question about whether there will be one, or four inquiries remains unanswered. The Prime Minister also made commitments to involve bereaved families, and other groups, on the scope of the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference. That is bound to take some time to work through. The broader the Terms of Reference, the longer the Inquiry will take and the more money it will cost; there will always be a balance to strike.

The Prime Minister stressed the independence of the Inquiry, which will of course be something bereaved interest groups will want to see, given any Inquiry will be scrutinising the decisions and actions of Government departments and Ministers, amongst others. That obviously raises the question of who will be appointed as Chair, and any Panel members.

The first of its kind in the UK legal market, our specialist Inquiries & Investigations team has advised on some of the highest-profile public inquiries established by the UK government. Armed with a detailed understanding of the inquiry process from both the perspective of the inquiry itself and the core participants, in this hub we will provide insights into the COVID-19 public inquiry to assist our clients in preparing for its impact.

 

Articles

A UK statutory public inquiry; to be or not to be?

This is the first article in a three-part series where we consider what options are available to the Government in respect of an inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic. In this first article, we consider, amongst others, the potential forms and timings for the inquiry and the advantages and disadvantages of a statutory inquiry.

What form might the UK Government’s “independent review” take?

The second article in our series where we consider what options are available to the Government in respect of an inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic. In this second article, we consider: an update on a COVID-19 public inquiry; the format of previous reviews; Article 2 role of an inquiry; and what can we learn from other reviews.

Could technology expedite an inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic?

The third article in our series where we consider the latest update on the COVID-19 public inquiry, and the use of technology in public inquiries. IT systems have always been the lifeblood of an inquiry, but never before has the importance of successful technology been so vital to the smooth operation of its work and effective engagement with participants and the public.

The UK and the devolved nations: Will there be an inquiry or inquiries into the response to Covid-19?

The administrations of all four nations in the UK are under pressure to establish inquiries into how the current pandemic has been handled. Public inquiries have a two-fold purpose; first, to find out what happened - what went well, and what didn’t, and secondly, to identify what lessons should be learned for the future. But how are these issues going to be examined by any public inquiry?

Coming soon

Over the coming weeks we will publish a further series of articles focusing on the potential areas of investigation for the Covid-19 public inquiry taking into consideration the recent Government “Coronavirus: Lessons learned to date” report, published on 12 October 2021. Please regularly check the site for any updates.

Events:

The Practical Guide to Public Inquiries: Past, Present and Future

The UK is no stranger to public inquiries and they have evolved to become a feature of modern administrative justice. Over the last few decades we have seen, and been involved in, some of the most serious and complex inquiries come into the public eye including the tragedy of Grenfell Tower, the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Inquiry and the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry. This year has been one of the most challenging for the general public and since the start of the pandemic there have been numerous calls for public inquiries into the governments’ handling of COVID-19, something which is likely to come into focus over the coming months. 

Our expert panel look at some of the key areas surrounding public inquiries including; how inquiries are set up, the gathering of evidence, Maxwellisation, and what could be on the horizon.

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