After meeting yesterday with the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, the Prime Minister has promised to appoint a chair for the Covid-19 public inquiry before Christmas.
My colleague Tim Coolican and I wrote an article last year regarding public inquiries (see here); examining the areas that needed to be considered before any potential Covid-19 inquiry could commence.
It will be interesting to see who is selected to be the chair. It may be difficult to find someone considered sufficiently independent and impartial by all those involved - given the impact the pandemic has had on all of our lives and the fact many (even senior members of the judiciary) have been vocal about their feelings over the course of the last two years. With the inquiry likely to cover issues spanning from health care to social care to housing to local government, it may well be that a panel is appointed to support the chair and to ensure the inquiry has the sufficient expertise.
Whilst the appointment of a chair is an important first step in the process of setting up the inquiry, there are many other important questions that still need to be answered - what will the terms of reference be? Who will be the core participants? Will the inquiry be phased or thematic? These issues in themselves are complex and will take time and careful thought to resolve, raising questions as to whether it is realistic to say that the inquiry will start (with any real force or momentum) in spring 2022.
Organisations and sector bodies should continue to consider the nature of their involvement in any potential inquiry and the messages that they want to be heard. Whilst sometimes criticised for being too slow, inquiries do bring change and as such, this could be an important opportunity to ensure lessons are learned and reform implemented.