Chair of Covid-19 Inquiry announced
Urgent calls from bereaved families, campaigning groups and opposition parties appear to have been heeded as Boris Johnson has announced the appointment of Baroness Hallett as chair for the Covid-19 Inquiry.
The Covid-19 Inquiry, due to begin in Spring 2022, has taken a significant step with an announcement that the chair of the Inquiry will be Baroness Hallett, with additional panel members to be announced in the new year. Baroness Heather Hallett, a former senior appeal court judge and crossbench life peer, is experienced in handling complex inquiries, inquests and reviews. She presided as Coroner over the inquests into the 7/7 London bombings, was chair of the Iraq Fatalities Investigations and the 2014 Hallett Review of an administrative scheme dealing with ‘on the runs’ in Northern Ireland. Most recently, Baroness Hallett was appointed as chair of the public inquiry into the death of Dawn Sturgess following exposure to the nerve agent Novichok. A new chair will now be found to replace her in the Sturgess inquiry.
Baroness Hallett is quoted in the official announcement:
“I am honoured to be appointed to chair the Covid-19 Inquiry. The pandemic has affected us all, some much worse than others. I am acutely conscious of the suffering it has caused to so many.
In the new year I shall be seeking views from those who have lost loved ones and all other affected groups about the Inquiry’s terms of reference.
I want to assure the British public that, once the terms of reference are finalised, I shall do my utmost to ensure the Inquiry answers as many questions as possible about the UK’s response to the pandemic so that we can all learn lessons for the future.”
Under the Inquiries Act 2005, a government minister appoints a chair or panel to lead an Inquiry and to investigate the events in question. This Inquiry will be an enormous undertaking, and careful thought must be given to the management of it. Baroness Hallett’s appointment is a welcome development, but further questions remain regarding who will assist her as panel members and what their expertise will likely be. Importantly, there are also questions on what the Inquiry’s scope will be, i.e, its Terms of Reference. There have been repeated calls from bereaved families and campaigning groups for consultation on these important aspects of the Inquiry.
With more than 146,000 deaths, and more than 10 million confirmed cases in the UK since the pandemic began last year, there are no signs that it will abate any time soon. Omicron is now on course to become the world’s most dominant variant, with cases doubling in England about every two days. The Government is reluctant to impose stricter measures, which could cause further loss of life. It is therefore vital that an effective Inquiry takes place expeditiously to provide answers of what went wrong and to make recommendations to prevent future similar loss of life.
To read more about what is involved in a public Inquiry and specifically Covid, you can read our previous article on the issue.
Saunders Law currently represents core participants in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, Infected Blood Inquiry and Undercover Policing Inquiry. If you've been affected by any of the issues raised above, our inquiries team led by Cyrilia Davies Knight are available on +44(0)207 632 4300, or fill in our online enquiry form and we will contact you.