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UK Covid-19 Inquiry – roundup of the latest key developments

As we surpass the 4th anniversary of the UK’s first national lockdown, Baroness Hallett - Chair to the UK Covid-19 Public Inquiry - has set out a timetable for the next stages in its investigation, taking us until summer 2025.

In our last article in this series, we reflected on the evidence heard so far in Module 2 of the Inquiry, which focused on core decision-making and political governance during the pandemic. Since then, the Inquiry has heard further evidence focused on the decision-making in Wales. The final part of Module 2, focused on decision-making in Northern Ireland, is due to take place in Belfast in late April.

This week, Baroness Hallet announced her plans for hearing evidence pertaining to Modules 3 – 6 and for a 7th module to examine the approach to testing, tracing and isolation adopted in the UK. All 5 modules have been scheduled to take place between September 2024 – summer 2015:

Module 3 (investigating the impact of the pandemic on UK healthcare systems) is due to have 10 weeks of public hearings starting on 9 September 2024 and ending on 28 November. After a short break, Module 4 (examining issues relating to vaccines, therapeutics and anti-viral treatments) is scheduled for 3 weeks of public hearings starting 14 January 2025. This will be followed by a month of Module 5 (pandemic procurement issues) public hearings starting on 3 March 2025. On the current timetable, Baroness Hallet then plans to hear evidence pertaining to the newly announced Module 7 (examining the approach to test, trace and isolate) in Spring 2025 before Module 6 (impact on the care sector) in Summer 2025. Alongside this, interim reports are planned to be released on a rolling basis starting with a Module 1 report due to be published in mid-2024.

It is not currently known how many further modules the Chair plans to open in the coming months, however the website lists 4 additional areas of focus that will be covered: (1) the Government’s business and financial responses; (2) health inequalities and the impact of Covid-19; (3) education, children and young persons; and (4) other public services, including frontline delivery by key workers.

On any analysis, this is a compact and tight timetable; particularly given the breadth of the issues under examination in each module and the need to gather, disclose and analyse a vast amount of evidence in the interim. The Chair, who has previously acknowledged her aim to complete all public hearings in the Inquiry by Summer 2026 to be ambitious, reaffirmed her commitment to this timeframe, stating: “We do not know when the next pandemic will strike. I want investigations to be concluded promptly and reports published regularly so that lessons can be learned as soon as possible.”

There is of course a delicate balance in the need for a thorough and effective, yet also timely, investigation; and finding this balance is by no means an easy feat. Nobody wants the Public Inquiry to drag on unnecessarily, yet it is crucial that the timetabling allows sufficiently for thorough evidence gathering and robust analysis of disclosure and preparation ahead of the public hearings or there is a risk that the efficacy of the process will be compromised. Several Core Participants have raised concern already across modules about the feasibility of the planned timetable, particularly in light of material provider’s struggles to comply with deadlines for disclosure and consequent delays to onward disclosure of material to Core Participants. No doubt the progress and consequential impact on this crucial balance will continue to be monitored closely with interest over the coming months.

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 the issues examined by the UK Covid-19 Public Inquiry. We currently represent Core Participants in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, the Infected Blood Inquiry and the Undercover Policing Inquiry and can offer 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.

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