Draft Terms of Reference for the UK Covid-19 Inquiry are published

14 March 2022

The draft terms of reference for the COVID-19 Public Inquiry have been announced. These are wide-ranging and cover the central, devolved and local public health decision-making, including how and when decisions were made; how the NHS and wider health and social care system responded and the economic response. The Inquiry Chair, Baroness Hallett, will now hold a four week public consultation, open until 23.59 on 7 April 2022. You can respond to the consultation by completing the online survey at UK Covid-19 Public Inquiry.

They are seeking views on the following:

  • Do the Inquiry’s draft Terms of Reference cover all the areas that you think should be addressed by the Inquiry?
  • Which issues or topics do you think the Inquiry should look at first?
  • Do you think the Inquiry should set a planned end-date for its public hearings, so as to help ensure timely findings and recommendations?
  • How should the Inquiry be designed and run to ensure that bereaved people or those who have suffered harm or hardship as a result of the pandemic have their voices heard?

The likelihood is that the shape of the Inquiry might alter but the substance of it is not likely to change radically. In order to get the Inquiry started in 2022, it is possible that the hearings will commence with the experiences of Bereaved Families and others who suffered hardship or loss as a result of the pandemic. In the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry they have taken those witnesses first in order to commence the process and allow further time to collect the additional material required. That may be the position adopted here.

The consultation may result in greater emphasis being given to the period before 23rd March 2020 and the science and decision making that led to the first lockdown. When one recalls the criticism in relation to closing borders, (or not), earlier implementation of social distancing,  imposing a period of lock down earlier (or not), the inaccurate data from the first few hundred (FF1) and the pre lockdown planning for a slow growing pandemic, it seems likely that this period should take on a greater role than seems to be currently envisaged. On 10 March 2020, when official figures suggested there had been a total of 913 cases – experts now estimate there were 75,000. That section could probably be dealt with as a separate module and again may enable the Inquiry to get started within a reasonable time.

It is likely that the Chair will try and limit the number of Core Participants given the wide ranging ambit of the inquiry. Those organisations wishing to have a voice should contact their trade or professional organisation as soon as possible and ensure that their 'voice' is being heard in relation to the draft terms of reference and ultimately at the Inquiry itself. It is likely to be difficult, save exceptionally, for a single organisation to obtain Core Participant status. There is also a significant expense in 'going it alone'.

For those individuals or organisations who wish to have a voice, there is likely to be a truth project akin to the Independent Inquiry in Child Sexual Abuse running alongside the Inquiry to make sure that as full a picture as possible is obtained and can inform the final report.


Anne Studd KC

Call 1988 | Silk 2012


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