The Covid-19 Public Inquiry (Spring 2022)
How it might affect you/your organisation and how to be prepared?
+44(0)20 7783 3723NatashaDavis@bdbpitmans.com
The Covid-19 Public Inquiry
The forthcoming Inquiry into the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic is set to begin its work shortly in Spring 2022 and will draw in numerous public bodies and organisations.
- The Inquiry will be a statutory public inquiry established under the Inquiries Act 2005, with full powers, including the power to:
- compel the production of documents; and
- to summon witnesses to give evidence on oath.
- The scope of the Covid-19 Inquiry is currently being decided, however it is expected that a similar approach to what was adopted on the Grenfell Inquiry will be put in place:
- What was known about the crisis before it took hold in the UK; and
- How information flowed and influenced decisions.
- The Prime Minister has appointed the Rt Hon Baroness Heather Hallett DBE as Chair.
What is a Public Inquiry?
- A public inquiry is an investigation into an issue of public concern. They can either be statutory or non-statutory.
- A statutory public inquiry can be convened by a government minister where “particular events have caused, or are capable of causing, public concern… or there is public concern”.
- The purpose of the inquiry is to ask three key questions:
1. What happened?
2. Why did it happen and who is to blame?
3. What can be done to prevent it happening again?
- The process involves reviewing volumes of documents, hearing oral evidence from witnesses and considering what can be done in future to stop issues happening again.
- The findings of a public inquiry can be used to inform subsequent criminal or civil proceedings and therefore, it is very important to be well prepared.
How might I / my organisation be affected by the Covid-19 Public Inquiry?
- The Chair can call whoever they want to give evidence, whether witnesses to an event or people with particular expertise.
- Failure to turn up or produce documents without a reasonable excuse is a criminal offence under the Inquiries Act, which could be punishable by a prison sentence of up to 51 weeks.
- The issues that the Inquiry will cover are expected to be very wide-ranging and therefore will involve a vast range of individuals and organisations. For example, the scope of issues could include the following, to name a few:
- The provision of PPE;
- The causes and management of the Covid-19 death rate in the UK;
- NHS Test and Trace system;
- The timing of lockdowns and introduction of the tier system;
- Effect of restrictions on businesses and vulnerable people;
- Travel restrictions and quarantine; and
- The vaccine rollout.
- As the Covid-19 pandemic has had an effect on almost every part of public life, we expect that there may be organisations drawn into the Inquiry who will not be expecting it.
How to be prepared for the Covid-19 Public Inquiry:
Don’t assume you won’t be drawn into the Inquiry – the pandemic was all-encompassing and affected everyone. Taking early steps to get ready for the Inquiry means you / your organisation won’t be caught out:
- Document retention – check your document retention policies and consider issuing a “stop notice” to instruct your staff to retain all documents;
- Create a strategic plan to identify relevant documents such as by key dates or theme;
- Identify storage and IT requirements to properly and safely store documents;
Remember: ‘Documents’ can include anything previously recorded, including: emails, letters, images, minutes, file notes, statistics, metadata or even instant messages such as texts and WhatsApp.
- Consider establishing a Covid-19 Inquiry project lead or team. The team should encompass members from different areas of your organisation and be flexible;
- Keep staff informed of the Inquiry and your organisations response.
The key is to be strategic and organised now.
How we can assist:
We are an expert team in public inquiries and investigations.
Our previous and current experience includes:
- The Hutton Inquiry
- The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA)
- The Infected Blood Inquiry
- The Forde Inquiry for the Labour Party
- The Brook House Inquiry
We can provide:
- Expert guidance in disclosure of documents – drawing on our vast experience working with disclosure providers on various inquiries and inquests.
- A unified team that work cohesively together, as an extension of your own team.
- A conscious and open approach to costs and we can discuss your costs requirements.
- Clear guidance and assistance on the process, procedures and timeframes of the Inquiry to alleviate any concerns that you / your organisation may have.