The Prime Minister announced yesterday that a public inquiry into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic will be held in Spring 2022.
He confirmed that the inquiry would be on a ‘statutory basis’. We assume, therefore, that like most public inquiries, the inquiry will be a statutory inquiry held under the Inquiries Act 2005.
Public inquiries are commissioned by a minister, but once established a statutory inquiry will be independent of the Government. This is especially important in the case of the Covid-19 public inquiry given the need for the Government’s actions to be scrutinised thoroughly.
Whilst the Prime Minister’s announcement represents a positive step to ensuring lessons are learned from the pandemic, there are still a number of factors that need to be addressed to ensure an effective inquiry takes place. As my colleague, Lorna Kenyon, and I discussed in our article last year, the following will need to be considered:
- An appropriate chairperson will need to be appointed who has the necessary competence, expertise and independence. This may be difficult given the potential scope of the public inquiry (which may cover everything from Government policy to PPE to social care).
- The terms of reference will need to be well considered to ensure all the necessary areas are examined.
- Public inquiries usually take place over years and this is unlikely to be satisfactory in this instance where there is a pressure for questions about the pandemic to be answered and any necessary changes to be implemented as quickly as possible. With this in mind, it will need to be considered whether the inquiry should be split into phases or modules in order to allow interim reports to be published as quickly as possible.
It is imperative that all those that wish to participate in and contribute to any public inquiry ensure their voice is heard. Organisations and sector bodies must now start to consider what they would want to achieve from a public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic and the questions they want to be answered.
Boris Johnson has said an independent public inquiry with wide-ranging statutory powers will begin hearing evidence in spring 2022 into the UK government’s handling of Covid-19. Although the terms of reference have yet to be agreed, the inquiry is expected to focus on identifying lessons from the pandemic, which has claimed the lives of more than 127,500 people, Europe’s highest death toll.