UK COVID-19 INQUIRY – UPDATE 30/08/22
The opening of UK Covid-19 public inquiry
Following the official opening of the UK Covid Inquiry on 20th July 2022 the Chairperson of the Covid-19 Inquiry, Baroness Hallet, stated that she plans to run the Inquiry thoroughly and as swiftly as possible. Baroness Hallett indicated that bereaved families would play a central role in the Inquiry and has committed to assisting them in their search for answers and accountability for the deaths of their loved ones.
The Inquiry will look at a wide range of issues including preparedness, response and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Inquiry’s work is guided by its terms of reference which were compiled following a public consultation in early 2022. The full terms of reference can be viewed Here.
The terms of reference provide a broad outline of the issues the Inquiry will investigate. Due to the significantly large scope of the Inquiry Baroness Hallett has decided to split the Inquiry in to separate modules which will deal with different key themes.
Module one deals primarily with preparedness and will consider the extent to which the risk of a Coronavirus pandemic was properly identified and planned for and whether the UK was ready for that eventuality. The module will examine the UK’s preparedness for whole-system civil emergencies, including resourcing the system of risk management and pandemic readiness.
Government decision-making relating to planning will be scrutinised and lessons sought from earlier incidents and simulations and international comparisons. This will include a review of the role of the devolved administration in Northern Ireland.
Module 1 was formally opened on 20th July 2022 and the first public hearings will commence in
Spring 2023. The full scope for Module 1 can be viewed Here.
Module 2 will examine the overall response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This will be split in to separate parts which will look at each devolved nation including a specific Northern Ireland sub-module where public hearings will take place in Belfast. Module 2 is likely to be formally opened in Autumn 2022 with public hearings likely to commence in Summer 2023.
Module 3 will examine the impact of the pandemic generally. In particular, Module 3 will deal with the impact on healthcare systems and patients, hospitals, other healthcare workers and staff. This will include the role of GP’s and other primary care providers.
Further modules have not yet been announced. We would consider that all three existing modules will be relevant to bereaved families from Northern Ireland and we will be making core participant application’s to secure our clients participation in each module.
Core Participant Status
Core participant status is granted to those who have a special interest in a public inquiry. It is difficult to conceive of a group who have been more tragically affected by the Covid-19 pandemic than bereaved families. It is therefore very likely that bereaved families will be granted core participant status.
An individual, group of individuals or entity may be granted Core Participant status. Core participants have the right to:
• Be provided with disclosure of evidence relevant to the particular issues in the Inquiry which are relevant to them;
• Attend public hearings, either in person or via video link;
• Make opening and closing statements at the public hearings;
• Suggest lines of questioning to be pursued by counsel to the Inquiry;
• Apply to ask questions of witnesses during the public hearings.
Baroness Hallett has encouraged those with similar interests to submit applications as a group. The Covid-19 bereaved families for Justice group have been instrumental in campaigning for a UK public Inquiry and will be entitled to core participant status in the Inquiry. Relevant groups or individuals must submit a core participant application for each module of the Inquiry which they wish to be involved in.
We have submitted an application for core participant status for Module 1 on behalf of the group and all individual members of the group. Our application included all clients who signed up with us by 16th August 2022 and we will update you on the status of this application once the Chair makes her decision.
Do not worry if you have missed the deadline for signing up for Module 1. We would consider that bereaved families will be entitled to be included as core participants for each module in the Inquiry and you can therefore continue to sign up for legal representation for those Modules.
If you do not wish to be a member of the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice NI group we can also submit a core participant application on behalf of an individual. However, we would stress that the Chair has encouraged those with similar interests such as bereaved families to apply for core participant status as a group with one recognised legal representative.
The Inquiry will not make any findings on individual cases and does not apportion criminal or civil liability. The purpose of the Inquiry is to establish the facts of what happened and to ensure that steps are taken to prevent a reoccurrence of these events.
Disclosure of Relevant Evidence
Before the public hearings there will be a disclosure phase where all relevant documentation will be disclosed to us on your behalf. The Chair released an official Protocol for the Transfer and Handling of Documents for the Covid Inquiry.
The document outlines exactly how important documents and evidence, submitted by Core Participants (CP), Material Providers (MP) and the public should be handled throughout the course of the Inquiry. You can read the Protocol in full Here.
The release of the Protocol document is an important next step in the discovery process as it sets the parameters for how the evidence gathered through disclosure should be produced and handled by all parties involved. The Chair has also named the Government in this document and has noted the seriousness of the offence of altering or hiding evidence, which is a criminal offence now that the Inquiry has been set up, as governed by the Inquiries Act 2005.
The Protocol covers two key areas:
• The production of documents by CP, MP and the public, and;
• The receipt and handling of those documents by the Inquiry
According to the Protocol document: “Material Provider means any person, institution or organisation, which has been asked to provide documents to the Inquiry or which has provided documents to the Inquiry. For the avoidance of doubt, it includes departments of Her Majesty’s Government”.
We expect to receive disclosure of relevant documentation in late 2022 or early 2023. We will update you on the progress of this as soon as possible.
Our role in the UK Covid-19 Inquiry is to represent the interests of bereaved families from Northern Ireland. You will not have pay for our representation at any time as it will be funded by the Inquiry if and when core participant status is granted.
As we are currently in the preparatory phase we will take full instructions from you initially on your experience. In particular, we want to hear about who your loved one was, how they passed and what you would like to achieve through this Inquiry.
If you have not already met with one of our solicitors for an initial consultation please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or 02887722102.
Thereafter, we will ensure that you are able to participate fully and effectively in the Inquiry. Our role is wide ranging but some of our key tasks will be to review all relevant disclosure, make written submissions to the Inquiry and to prepare questions for key witnesses.
A preliminary hearing for Module 1 will be taking place in London on 20th September 2022. The purpose of this hearing is to deal with any preliminary matters that have arisen in relation to Module 1. Your legal team will be attending this hearing. You are not required to attend but are welcome to attend if you wish, either remotely or in person. Please let us know if you wish to attend in person so that we can inform the Inquiry’s legal team.
Typically, Inquiries move at a fast pace once they are up and running and change very easily overnight, it is therefore important to us that we maintain regular communication with our clients to ensure everyone is updated with the relevant information.
You will receive regular newsletter updates and webinars will organised where necessary for your legal team to provide you with more detailed updates. You are also welcome to contact us directly if you have any queries on email@example.com or 02887722102