UK Covid-19 Public Inquiry Lawyers
Welcome to the Olliers Covid-19 Inquiry Hub
Welcome to the Olliers Covid-19 Inquiry Hub.
The Olliers Covid-19 Inquiry Hub has been created by the Olliers Public Inquiry and Inquest Team.
We have extensive experience in representing individuals in high profile inquiries and inquests.
Our team is available to provide advice and representation to individuals who may be core participants or witnesses to the Covid-19 Inquiry. We can also help if you have received a Rule 9 or Rule 13 letter from the Inquiry.
If you have been contacted directly by the Inquiry, or you want advice about being made a core participant (giving you the right to ask questions through your legal team), please contact our team.
Core participants and other witnesses
If you are a core participant, it is vital that you arrange legal representation as soon as possible. The same may also apply to individual witnesses who may not have been designated as core participants.
Core participants to the Inquiry, and other witnesses not designated as core participants, may be required to attend the Inquiry either to give evidence or to produce documents (or other material). There may also be individuals with a particular interest in the proceedings or outcome of the Inquiry. In certain circumstances they may be at risk of significant criticism by the Inquiry. Anyone to whom this applies needs to consider immediate representation.
The key point of a public inquiry is to ensure transparency and public accountability. The Covid-19 Inquiry will receive unprecedented media attention. In this respect Olliers is uniquely placed – not only can we provide strong legal representation; we are also leaders in the field of reputation management.
It may be that you would like legal advice because you are one of or part of the following:
- Politician involved in decision making
- Civil service
- Faith groups
- Education sector
- Voluntary/community sector
- Public health official/expert
- Justice sector
- Patient groups
- Care sector
- Families of deceased/patients
If so, contact us and we will help if we can.
History of the Covid-19 Inquiry
In March 2020, part of the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic was the imposition of a national lockdown. Within a relatively short space of time, there were demands for an inquiry into the Government’s handling of the pandemic. Despite these demands, it was not until June 2022 that the Terms of Reference for the Covid-19 Inquiry were agreed.
More recently, Baroness Hallett – who is chairing the Inquiry – explained why the Inquiry has been set up in her opening statement:
‘The Covid-19 pandemic affected us all. Some far more than others. People lost loved ones and could not mourn properly. Children and young people lost educational opportunities. Businesses failed. Physical and mental health suffered. People felt isolated. Although life is beginning at last to return to normal, the pandemic is still with us and there are many who are still suffering. Those who have suffered the most want to know if anything could have been done to prevent or reduce their suffering and that is why this Inquiry has been established.’
In our timeline (which is regularly updated) we chart the key events which have led to the final terms of reference and the commencement of work under the Inquiry.
FAQ and Definitions
Core participant status must be approved by the chair to the inquiry. Core participants are parties involved in a public inquiry who may have played a direct or significant role in the subject of the inquiry. They can be individuals, government bodies (for example the police) or corporate bodies. For those who appear as core participants, the appearance at the inquiry may be of very real importance and there may be much at stake for those compelled to appear.
Rule 9 of the Inquiry Rules 2006 require an inquiry to send a ‘written request for a written statement to any person from whom the panel proposes to take evidence’. The request may also cover production of documentation or some ‘other thing’ and may request the recipient to provide oral evidence. Anyone receiving a Rule 9 letter should seek immediate legal advice.
Under Rule 13 of the Inquiry Rules 2006, the Chair to an inquiry may send a warning letter to a person who may be criticised during the inquiry or in the report or interim report. Anyone receiving a Rule 13 letter should seek immediate legal advice.
Public Funding for legal representation before an inquiry can be made available to core participants and witnesses to the inquiry. An application for funding must be made to the inquiry and will be subject to specified criteria. If you would like more information on this, see our article on funding for legal representation before the Covid Inquiry. Alternatively, you can contact us and we will discuss this with you.
The Inquiry will examine, consider and report on the preparations for and the response to the Covid pandemic in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The aims of the Inquiry are to:
- Examine the COVID-19 response and the impact of the pandemic in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and produce a factual narrative account, including:
a) The public health response across the UK, including:
b) The response of the health and care sector across the UK, including:
c) The economic response to the pandemic and its impact, including government interventions by way of:
2. Identify the lessons to be learned from the above, to inform the UK’s preparations for future pandemics.
Opening Statement and the Covid-19 Inquiry Modules
Module 1 is now open. This module will consider the extent to which the risk of a coronavirus pandemic was properly identified and planned for and whether the UK was ready for the pandemic. It will look at the UK’s preparedness including the system of risk management and pandemic readiness. It will also scrutinise government decision making in relation to planning and seek to identify lessons from earlier incidents, simulations and international comparisons.
The application process to become a Core Participant for Module 1 has now closed. Module 1 held its first Preliminary Hearing on 4 October 2022 and a further Preliminary Hearing on 14 February 2023. The Inquiry began hearing evidence for Module 1 in public hearings on 13 June 2023.
Module 2 will be split into parts. The first part will look at core political and administrative governance and decision making for the UK. Initially, it will look at the UK wide and English perspective and then look at the issues from the perspective of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (Modules 2a, 2b and 2c).
The base for public hearings will be London but it will also spend time hearing evidence about the response and impact of the pandemic in each of the four nations.
The application process to become a Core Participant for Module 2, 2A, 2B and 2C has now closed. Module 2 held its first Preliminary Hearing on 31 October 2022 and held a further Preliminary Hearing on 1 March 2023. Modules 2A and 2B had their initial Preliminary Hearings on 1 November 2022 and 2C on 2 November 2022 and further preliminary hearings on 21 March (Module 2A), 29 March (Module 2B and Module 2C)
Public hearings for Module 2 are due to take place in October 2023, followed by public hearings for the devolved governments, Module 2A (Scotland) in January 2024, Module 2B (Wales) in February 2024 and Module 2C (Northern Ireland) in April 2024.
On 8th November 2022, the UK Covid-19 Inquiry opened its third investigation, known as Module 3. Module 3 is to consider the way in which the healthcare systems in the UK responded to the Covid-19 pandemic. It will assess the impact of the response on healthcare across the UK and what can be learned for the future. Module 3 will look at the impact on systems and services, including patients, doctors, nurses, and other staff.
Baroness Heather Hallett, Chair of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry said the following: “The Inquiry will investigate and analyse the healthcare decisions made during the pandemic, the reasons for them and their impact, so that lessons can be learned and recommendations made for the future.”
The Inquiry has set out 12 key areas to be investigated which includes:
- The impact of Covid-19 on people’s experience of healthcare.
- Core decision-making and leadership within healthcare systems during the pandemic.
- 111, 999 and ambulance services, GP surgeries and hospitals and cross-sectional co-operation between services.
- Decision-making about the nature of healthcare to be provided for patients with Covid-19, its escalation and the provision of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, including the use of do not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation instructions (DNACPRs).
- The impact of the pandemic on doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff, including on those in training and specific groups of healthcare workers (for example by reference to ethnic background). Availability of healthcare staff.
- Preventing the spread of Covid-19 within healthcare settings, including infection control, the adequacy of PPE and rules about visiting those in hospital.
The application process to become a Core Participant for Module 3 opened on 8th November 2022 and closed on 5th December 2022. Module 3 held its first Preliminary Hearing on 28 February 2023. Hearings for Module 3 are expected to begin in Autumn 2024.
Module 4 will scrutinise vaccines, therapeutics and anti-viral treatment across the UK. Evidence for this investigation is planned to be heard in the summer of 2024. The scope for Module 4 is on the Inquiry website. Module 4 opened on 5 June and the Core Participant application window was 5 June to 30 June 2023.
Module 5 is designed to scrutinise Government Procurement across the UK. This investigation is scheduled to open in October 2023, and the Core Participant application window will be from 24 October 2023 to 17 November 2023. Evidence hearings are set to take place in early 2025.
Module 6 will scrutinise the care sector across the UK, and is due to open in December. The Core Participant application window will be from 12 December 2023 to 19 January 2024. Public hearings are set to start in spring 2025.
In early 2024, the next 12 months’ investigations will be announced. Future investigations will cover:
- Testing and tracing
- Education, children and young persons
- Governmental intervention by way of financial support for business, jobs, and the self employed
- Additional funding of public services and the voluntary/community sector, benefits and support for vulnerable people.
The Inquiry’s final modules will specifically investigate impact and inequalities in the context of public services – including key workers – and in the context of businesses.”
The final modules are going to investigate impact and disparities with regards to public services (including key workers) and businesses. The Inquiry will scrutinise the responses of both the devolved and UK Governments.
Funding available for core participants and witnesses
Legal representation at public expense is governed by the Inquiry’s March 2022 Costs Protocol. This protocol relates to either a ‘core participant’ in the inquiry or an individual witness not so designated.
A written application for funding in respect of core participants and witnesses must be made to the Chair to the Inquiry. A separate protocol will be published in relation to considering applications for core participant status.
A person is eligible can apply for funding if they are:
- attending a Public Hearing of the Inquiry either to give evidence or to produce any document or other thing; or
- they have such particular interest in the proceedings/outcome of the Inquiry which justifies an award.
The Chair will, when coming to a decision, take into account:
- the financial resources of the applicant financial resources and,
- whether making an award is in the public interest.
The Protocol expressly states that the Chair envisages that awards will be made only in cases where she decides that:
- the applicant: has a direct link to, and evidence to provide in respect of, the matters set out in the Inquiry’s terms of reference; and/or
- has a significant interest in an important aspect of the matters set out in those terms of reference; and/or
- may be subject to explicit or significant criticism during the Inquiry’s proceedings or in the report/interim report.
the applicant would be prejudiced in seeking representation if they were to be in any doubt about funds becoming available and there are no other means by which such representation can be funded;
it is fair, necessary, reasonable and proportionate to make an award.
Awards will generally not be made, in respect of the legal expenses of substantial bodies, or of individuals who could reasonably expect to be met by such bodies.
An award, will normally be limited to the legal representative having a role in relation to some or all of the following matters:
- taking initial instructions;
- advising the client in relation to the making of a witness statement and/or otherwise providing evidence to the Inquiry, in accordance with any request made by the Inquiry under Rule 9 of the Rules;
- considering disclosure material and/or that contained in an Inquiry Bundle (or any limited Bundle in the case of an individual witness who is not a Core Participant);
- advising the client in relation to any warning letter issued by the Chair under rule 13 of the Rules;
- making an opening statement, where permitted;
- representing the client during their oral evidence (and the evidence of others, if necessary);
- making an application to be permitted to examine any witness giving evidence;
- making final submissions, where necessary.
Written applications for funding of legal expenses should be sent to the Solicitor to the Inquiry in writing for the Chair to determine. An application should set out:
- Reasons why legal representation is necessary;
- which Inquiry module(s) the application relates to, with reasons;
- the extent of the applicant’s financial resources and confirmation that there are no other means by which such representation can be funded;
- the nature of the public interest that will be served by an award being made from public funds;
- the nature and function of the legal representation for which the award is sought;
- size and composition of the legal team including the seniority and proposed hourly charging rates for all solicitors and paralegals to be engaged;
- where it is thought necessary to instruct counsel, the reasons for so doing;
- estimated duration of the recognised legal representation;
- the number of hours each week for which it is anticipated that the recognised legal representative’s team will be engaged on Inquiry work;
- the number of hours each week for which it is anticipated that counsel will be engaged on Inquiry work;
- the amount of time that it is anticipated will be spent in conference at the end of each day of hearings; and
- particulars of any other foreseeable expenses relating to legal representation.
Subject to the cap on the maximum number of hours that can be charged by an applicant’s recognised legal representative, the representative will agree with the Solicitor to the Inquiry in advance the hourly rates that are to apply to them and/or to any other qualified lawyer who will be appointed to assist them. Where no agreement can be reached regarding hourly rates, the Chair will determine such rates as she considers appropriate upon receipt of representations in writing on behalf of the applicant.
The maximum hourly rates for travel and waiting time by the members of an applicant’s legal team shall be half the agreed hourly rate.
The Chair must direct that core participants shall be represented by a single recognised legal representative where:
- their interests in the outcome of the Inquiry are similar;
- the facts that they are likely to rely on in the course of the Inquiry are similar;
- it is fair and proper for them to be jointly represented.
Where the interests of any applicant may conflict with the interests of other parties, separate legal representation may be granted.
The Solicitor to the Inquiry will notify the applicant and, where applicable, their recognised legal representative, in writing of the Chair’s determination and, where an award is made, the terms of the award.
The applicant to whom that award has been made must submit bills relating to their legal expenses to the Solicitor to the Inquiry at monthly intervals.
Human Rights during COVID – Panel Provisions
A lot of the respondents to the Covid-19 Consultation referenced human rights issues during the pandemic. The Covid-19 Inquiry has adopted the Panel Principles.
A human rights based approach involves ensuring that principles of human rights are achieved and implemented. While human rights principles guide us on what should be done, adopting a human rights-based approach ensures that these principles are achieved.
Common principles to a human rights approach have been identified as the “PANEL” principles:
- Non-discrimination and equality
These principles are explained in more detail below;
Everyone has the right to participate in decisions affecting their human rights. Participation must be active, free and meaningful, and give attention to issues of accessibility, including access to information in a form and a language which can be understood.
Accountability requires effective monitoring of compliance with human rights standards, as well as effective remedies for human rights breaches. For accountability to be effective, there must be appropriate laws, policies, institutions, administrative procedures and mechanisms of redress in order to secure human rights.
Non-discrimination and equality
A human rights based approach means that all forms of discrimination in the realisation of rights must be prohibited, prevented and eliminated. Priority should be given to people in the most marginalised or vulnerable situations who face the biggest barriers to realising their rights.
Everyone is entitled to claim and exercise their rights and freedoms. Individuals and communities need to be able to understand their rights, and to participate fully in the development of policy and practices which affect their lives.
A human rights based approach requires that the law recognises human rights and freedoms as legally enforceable entitlements, and the law itself is consistent with human rights principles.
UK Covid-19 Inquiry
Within the Consultation to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, the issue of the impact of the pandemic upon human rights and civil liberties was a topic heavily discussed.
In her response to the Consultation, Baroness Hallett acknowledged that respondents had ‘raised a wide range of issues that were perceived to impact on rights protected under the European Convention on Human Rights’.
- the initial pandemic response and whether it was consistent with the Article 2 duty to take appropriate preventative measures to safeguard lives;
- mandating vaccinations within certain sectors, and the requirements for vaccine certification for international travel;
- the closure of places of worship set against the right to freedom of religion;
- the enforcement of Covid-19 related restrictions on the freedom of assembly;
- freedom of speech, the flagging and removal of content from social media, and the perceived suppression of scientists who challenged prevailing opinion of Covid-19 related restrictions.
Many respondents asked that the Inquiry apply a specific human rights focus to its investigations. However, Baroness Hallett took the view that the issue of human rights will be fully explored ‘as they arise in our work’ and, given the level of concern she concluded that, ‘in carrying out our work, the inquiry will adopt the ‘PANEL’ principles of Participation, Accountability, Non-discrimination, Empowerment and Legality, as used in human rights investigations, to guide the inquiry’s design’.
Specialist Public Inquiry and Inquest Lawyers (London & Manchester)
If you need advice or representation in relation to an inquiry or an inquest please contact our team of experts on 0161 834 1515 or email email@example.com.