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The COVID 19 national Inquiry — what is it about and where are we?

The UK COVID-19 Inquiry has been set up to examine, consider and report on preparations and the response to the pandemic

Many of you will have noticed that the COVID 19 national Inquiry is hitting the news this week.

By way of re-cap, it became clear early on that there would need to be a major investigation through a statutory inquiry looking at every aspect of the pandemic to find out what happened and what we could learn from it to prevent a recurrence.

Our former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, promised in July 2020 there would be a full statutory inquiry and this was formally announced on 12th May 2021 when he said it would “…place the state’s actions under a microscope” and it would have “…the resources required to do it properly.”

Following the appointment of the chair, Baroness Heather Hallett, in December 2021, the inquiry was formally set up by the Prime Minister on 28 June 2022.

The inquiry is staged into separate modules and will look at how various sectors and key organisations responded to the pandemic. There are currently three modules which are under way looking at :

  • Module 1 — the resilience and preparedness of the UK for the coronavirus pandemic going back to 2009 to 20/1/2020, although it seems they might stray beyond this
  • Module 2 will examine political and administrative decision-making of the UK and devolved governments
  • Module 3 will examine the impact of COVID, the governmental and societal responses to it on the healthcare systems across the UK

More recently, modules 4 to 6 have been announced:

  • Module 4 will open on 5 June and will examine vaccines, therapeutics and anti-viral treatment across the UK.
  • Module 5 will examine government procurement across the UK and will open this investigation in October 2023.
  • Module 6, examining the care sector across the UK, will open in December 2023.

We are also told that future modules will look at 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 the impact and inequalities in the context of public services — including key workers — and in the context of businesses. The Inquiry is UK-wide and will examine the responses of both the devolved and UK Government throughout all of its work.

We understand the Inquiry is aiming to complete public hearings by summer 2026. The final report is likely to be 2027, making this a five to six year Inquiry (as forecast by commentators).

Disclosure and the WhatsApps

There has been a good deal of press coverage over recent days regarding the request made by the inquiry on 28th April to the Cabinet Office for the Government’s WhatsApp messages and specifically those of Boris Johnson.

The Cabinet Office has indicated that it will disclose what is relevant to the Inquiry’s work whereas the Inquiry is insistent it needs to see the complete material, which it will then sift for relevance. It seems the disagreement remains as the Government now seeks to judicially review the request for complete disclosure and thus the courts will now determine the parameters of this. Watch this space!

For a further discussion or for information about how our team of expert lawyers can assist your organisation with inquiries, you can contact our public inquiry solicitors.