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Public Inquiries and Investigations

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. On 15 December 2021, the Rt Hon Baroness Heather Hallett DBE was appointed to Chair this Inquiry. Panel members will be appointed this year to sit alongside Baroness Hallett. As an Inquiry established under the Inquiries Act 2005, the Chair 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 work of the Inquiry is expected to Start in Spring 2022.

The draft terms of reference for the Inquiry have been published by the Cabinet Office and a consultation period on the draft terms of reference commenced on 11 March 2022 with replies invited by 23:59 on 7 April 2022. The Scottish Inquiry has announced its own statutory inquiry which will be chaired by Lady Poole QC and the terms of reference were announced on 14 December 2021.

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.

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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?

What could we expect from the UK Covid-19 Public Inquiry? – Part 1

In this series of articles we consider some of the areas of investigation suggested in the draft ToR for the Covid-19 Public Inquiry, through an analysis of the evidence already heard by the Joint Inquiry.

The UK Covid-19 Public Inquiry What we know so far, and what it means for you

In this briefing note we look at what’s happened to date in the Covid-19 Public Inquiry and consider the practical implications for those likely to become involved.

What could we expect from the UK Covid-19 Public Inquiry? – Part 2: The deployment of non-pharmaceutical interventions and the consequences

In part two of our series, we will consider the deployment of non-pharmaceutical interventions and the consequences of those measures. We will focus specifically on: The Government’s early decisions on which non-pharmaceutical measures to utilise; The public’s compliance with the measures; and The impact of the measures on maternity services, mental health services and care homes.

Coming soon

In part three of our series, we will consider testing and contact tracing. We will focus specifically on: a. suspension of community testing in March 2020; b. introduction of a 100,000 tests a day target by the Secretary of State; c. effectiveness of NHST&T England, particularly with respect to public compliance with self-isolation; and d. the extent to which the Covid-19 Public Inquiry might compare the four nations’ approach to testing and contact tracing.

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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