The UK Covid Inquiry draft terms of reference have been available since May 2022. In May the Inquiry also announced the leading lawyers to the Inquiry, namely the solicitor and lead Queen’s Counsel followed by 11 additional QCs. In June a further 50 or so barristers were named as counsel to the Inquiry, bringing the total number of barristers to over 60.
On 28th June 2022 the Prime Minister approved the draft terms of reference, almost in their entirety.
So, we are now certain as to what the Inquiry will consider.
The Inquiry will examine, consider and report on preparations and the response to the Covid pandemic in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Under the Terms of Reference the Inquiry will:
a) consider reserved and devolved matters across the United Kingdom, minimising duplication of investigation, evidence gathering and reporting;
b) consider any disparities evident in the impact of the pandemic on different categories of people;
c) consider the experiences of bereaved families and others who have suffered hardship or loss as a result of the pandemic;
d) highlight where lessons identified from preparedness and the response to the pandemic may be applicable to other civil emergencies;
e) have reasonable regard to relevant international comparisons; and
f) produce its reports and recommendations in a timely manner.
The aims of the Inquiry are to:
1) Examine the COVID-19 response and the impact of the pandemic and produce a factual narrative account, including:
a) The public health response, including:
i) preparedness and resilience;
ii) how decisions were made, communicated, recorded, and implemented;
iii) intergovernmental decision-making;
iv) collaboration between central government, devolved administrations, regional and local authorities, and the voluntary and community sector;
v) the availability and use of data, research and expert evidence;
vi) legislative and regulatory control and enforcement;
vii) shielding and the protection of the clinically vulnerable;
viii) the use of lockdowns and other ‘non-pharmaceutical’ interventions such as social distancing and the use of face coverings;
ix) testing, contact tracing, and isolation;
x) the impact on the mental health and wellbeing of the population, including but not limited to those who were harmed significantly by the pandemic;
xi) the impact on the mental health and wellbeing of the bereaved, including post-bereavement support;
xii) the impact on health and care sector workers and other key workers;
xiii) the impact on children and young people, including health, wellbeing and social care;
xiv) education and early years provision;
xv) the closure and reopening of the hospitality, retail, sport and leisure and travel and tourism sectors, places of worship, and cultural institutions;
xvi) housing and homelessness;
xvii) safeguarding and support for victims of domestic abuse;
xviii) prisons and other places of detention;
xix) the justice system;
xx) immigration and asylum;
xxi) travel and borders; and
xxii) the safeguarding of public funds and management of financial risk.
b) The response of the health and care sector, including:
i) preparedness, initial capacity and the ability to increase capacity, and resilience;
ii) initial contact with official healthcare advice services such as 111 and 999;
iii) the role of primary care settings such as General Practice;
iv) management of the pandemic in hospitals, including infection prevention and control, triage, critical care capacity, discharge of patients, use of DNACPR decisions, approach to palliative care, workforce testing, changes to inspections, and impact on staff and staffing levels;
v) management of the pandemic in care homes and other care settings, including infection prevention and control, the transfer of residents to or from homes, treatment and care of residents, restrictions on visiting, workforce testing and changes to inspections;
vi) care in the home, including by unpaid carers;
vii) antenatal and postnatal care;
viii) the procurement and distribution of key equipment and supplies, including PPE and ventilators;
ix) the development, delivery and impact of therapeutics and vaccines;
x) the consequences of the pandemic on provision for non-COVID related conditions and needs; and
xi) provision for those experiencing long-COVID.
c) The economic response to the pandemic and its impact, including government interventions by way of:
i) support for businesses, jobs and the self-employed, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, loans schemes, business rates relief and grants;
ii) additional funding for relevant public services;
iii) additional funding for the voluntary and community sector; and
iv) benefits and sick pay, and support for vulnerable people.
2) Identify the lessons to be learned from the above, to inform the UK’s preparations for future pandemics.
Now the Prime Minister has set the Terms of Reference, the Covid 19 Inquiry has been formally established under the Inquiries Act (2005). Work begins.
Baroness Hallett has given a video update statement, in which she makes seven promises, summarised below;
- People who have suffered during the pandemic will be at the heart of the Inquiry’s work.
- The Inquiry will be firmly independent.
- The Inquiry will be fair, balanced and thorough.
- The Inquiry will deliver any recommendations as soon as possible by producing interim reports, thereby reducing or preventing the suffering and hardship in any future pandemic.
- The Inquiry will not only be in London.
- The Inquiry will be conducted openly and publish regular reports on progress.
- The Inquiry will be conducted efficiently and as speedily as possible
Public hearings will start in 2023. The timetable is ambitious. The Inquiry Chair will set out her approach for the next stage of the Inquiry’s work in July.
A ‘listening exercise’ will begin in the Autumn, allowing people from across the UK who wish to share their experience with the Inquiry to do so.
Olliers Public Inquiry Team
Olliers has many years of experience of representing individuals appearing as witnesses or core participants in public inquiries. We advise and represent throughout all stages of the process.