The Prime Minister announced on 15 December 2021 that Baroness Hallett will lead the UK-wide public inquiry into the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic (the inquiry). Baroness Hallett is a former judge of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales and previously led the independent inquest into the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005.
The UK Government has stated that additional panel members will be appointed in 2022 to ensure that the inquiry has the appropriate expertise to undertake its work.
The terms of reference for the inquiry, which regulate what it can investigate, are yet to be announced. It is intended that the Prime Minister will consult Baroness Hallett and ministers from the devolved nations before draft terms of reference are published in the new year.
Baroness Hallett has indicated that she will seek views on the terms of reference from those who have been bereaved as a result of the pandemic and "all other affected groups". Therefore, those affected may wish to begin considering the areas that they wish the inquiry to investigate so that they are ready to make representations to Baroness Hallett.
While the inquiry will investigate events in all four nations of the UK, a Scottish inquiry has also been established to consider matters within the devolved powers of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government.
The terms of reference for the Scottish COVID-19 Inquiry were published on 14 December 2021, following a public consultation exercise. The chair of the Scottish inquiry, Lady Poole, will begin her work with a period of reflection on the terms of reference that have been set by the Scottish Government. It is expected that the terms of reference for the UK-wide inquiry will become available during this period and this will allow Lady Poole to consider any overlap between the remits of these inquiries.
The Welsh and Northern Ireland administrations are also facing calls to set up separate inquiries into the handling of the pandemic. The Northern Ireland Health Minister has stated that the need for a separate Northern Ireland Inquiry and its scope, "can reasonably be considered at a later stage once there is clarity regarding the UK-wide Public Inquiry.
To date, the Welsh First Minister has resisted calls for a Wales-specific public inquiry and has stated that events in Wales should be scrutinised by the UK-wide inquiry. He has welcomed the appointment of Baroness Hallet to lead the inquiry and the involvement of Welsh ministers in setting the terms of reference.
The UK Government has confirmed that the inquiry is set to begin its work in spring 2022 as previously announced.
For more information on participating in a public inquiry, please contact Christine O'Neill KC, Kirstyn Burke or your usual Brodies contact.