The Covid-19 Public Inquiry has finally published its final terms of reference – now what?
The terms of reference for the UK’s Covid-19 Public Inquiry were formally set on Wednesday. Though the timing of this publication, which came just days after legal action over the continued delays to the promised “Spring 2022” start date was threatened by campaign groups, may seem somewhat “convenient” this important step has enabled the inquiry to be formally established in accordance with the Inquiries Act 2005 and now the real work can begin.
The final three-page document sets out a broad scope for the inquiry’s investigations, and Baroness Hallett as Chair will retain discretion throughout the inquiry as to the detail in which the issues contained therein are explored. This followed a month-long public consultation period during which the views of over 20,000 were canvassed via online submissions and a series of “roundtable” events hosted across the country during which the inquiry team met with bereaved families, community groups, unions and other interested groups and organisations including the Federation of Ethnic Minority Healthcare Organisations (“FEMHO”) with whom we are working.
The Prime Minister, in his letter to Inquiry Chair Baroness Hallett, confirmed that he had accepted all of her recommended changes to the scope of the terms of reference “subject only to a small number of clarificatory changes requested by the devolved administrations”. Key changes included putting consideration of inequality issues at the forefront of the investigation and the addition of issues concerning children and young people, support for victims of domestic abuse, 111 and 999 services, mental health and wellbeing impacts and the collaboration between regional, devolved and national government and the community and voluntary sectors.
It was also announced upon publication of the terms of reference that two panel members will be appointed to assist Baroness Hallett and ensure that the necessary expertise required to address the vast scope and complexity of the issues to be investigated is reflected in its leadership. In terms of the inquiry’s legal team, it has recently been announced that Lead Counsel to the Inquiry, Hugo Keith QC, will be supported by 11 further Queen’s counsel and a team of 49 junior counsel.
So what happens next?
Whilst no timeline has been set in stone the next steps will be focused on the inquiry team starting the evidence gathering stage, determining what witnesses they will call and opening applications for Core Participant status. It is expected that public hearings will begin at some stage next year, with a “listening exercise” due to take place from the Autumn of this year, though the Inquiry has been careful to emphasise it is working to an “ambitious timetable”. It has also been confirmed that the Inquiry team will travel around the country during its investigations in recognition that experiences of the pandemic have varied across different parts of the UK. A further update has been promised within the next month.
Saunders Law is proud to be working with the Federation of Ethnic Minority Healthcare Organisations (“FEMHO”) and the Covid-19 Airborne Transmission Alliance (“CATA”) in relation to these issues. We currently represent core participants in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, the Infected Blood Inquiry and the Undercover Policing Inquiry and can offer expert legal assistance and representation in all public inquiry cases.
Please contact us on 0207 632 4300 or fill in our online enquiry form if you would like our assistance and we would be happy to discuss your matter with you.