Draft terms of reference published for the Covid-19 Inquiry
The UK Covid-19 Inquiry has now published its draft Terms of Reference, setting out the scope of matters to be investigated in the Inquiry. These will be subject to public consultation until 7 April when the Chair of the Inquiry, Baroness Hallett, will consider whether to recommend any changes to the Prime Minister before the Inquiry formally begins.
Why are the Terms of Reference important?
The ‘Terms of Reference’ is the key document for an inquiry as it provides a roadmap for the matters to be examined and the overall aims of the investigation. An inquiry will only consider issues which are relevant to its Terms of Reference. This in turn will dictate which individuals or organisations can be involved in an inquiry as ‘core participants’ as this requires them to have played a direct and significant role in the matters set out within the Terms of Reference, have a significant interest in an important aspect of these matters, or be subject to criticism during the inquiry. Core participants are able to play an active role in proceedings, with access to inquiry documents and funding to appoint legal representatives to put forward questions for witnesses on their behalf.
You can find more information about what is involved in a public inquiry in our previous article.
What is included in the Covid-19 Inquiry’s draft Terms of Reference?
The draft Terms of Reference have been divided into two broad aims, namely to examine and produce a factual account of the response to COVID-19 and impact of the pandemic across the four nations, and to identify lessons to be learned which can inform the UK’s preparations for future pandemics. A wide range of issues are listed within these aims, including:
- Decision-making in relation to issues such as lockdowns, closure of the hospitality and leisure sectors, travel and borders, and protection of the clinically vulnerable;
- Preparedness and resilience of the health and care sector across the UK;
- Management of the pandemic in hospitals and care settings, including infection prevention and control;
- Procurement of key equipment and supplies, including PPE and ventilators;
- Consequences of the pandemic for non-COVID related conditions and needs; and
- The economic response to the pandemic and its impact, including in relation to support for businesses and vulnerable people.
Crucially, the draft Terms of Reference also specifies that the Inquiry will consider any disparities in the impact of the pandemic and state’s response, including those relating to protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 such as disability, race or sex. The importance of investigating disparities in the impact of the pandemic on black and minority ethnic communities is discussed in a separate article and Saunders Law strongly welcomes its inclusion in the draft Terms of Reference.
The full draft document can be accessed here.
What are the next stages for the Covid-19 Inquiry?
The Inquiry will be holding a public consultation on the draft Terms of Reference until 7 April 2022. Following this consultation, Baroness Hallett will recommend any changes to the Terms of Reference to the Prime Minister. Once these have been agreed, the Inquiry will be formally established and work will commence on gathering evidence relevant to the Terms of Reference. It is expected that public hearings will begin next year.
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 020 7632 4300 or Make an enquiry and we will contact you.