Covid-19 Public Inquiry

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COVID-19 PUBLIC INQUIRY

We represent members of the Northern Ireland branch of the UK wide group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice.

A public Inquiry in to the handling of the pandemic has been announced and is currently in the early stages of establishment. The UK Covid-19 Inquiry will be a major evaluation of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Chairperson of the UK public inquiry is Baroness Heather Hallett. Baroness Hallett is a retired Court of Appeal Judge who led the Inquest in to the 7/7 London bombings and ‘On the runs’ inquiry.

As instructed solicitors for the Northern Ireland branch of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice we have been seeking a regional public inquiry to evaluate the handling of the pandemic specifically in Northern Ireland. A devolved Inquiry in Northern Ireland has not been announced to date.

If you have lost a loved one to Covid-19 you are entitled to take part in the UK public inquiry and/or a devolved Northern Ireland Inquiry (if such an Inquiry is established). You are also entitled to instruct free legal representation.

How can I become involved?

Step 1 – Apply to join the UK wide Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group: 
COVID Bereaved Families for Justice (covidfamiliesforjustice.org)

Step 2 – Email the Northern Ireland branch of the group to inform them that you have submitted an application to join the wider UK group –
northernireland@covidfamiliesforjustice.org

Step 3 – Complete our group member questionnaire here
Questionnaire .

Step 4 – Complete our legal representation form or email to sign up for free legal representation at the inquiry:
covidinquiry@paduffy.com

  Please be assured that our legal representation will come at no cost to you. We will be acting on a pro bono basis until such time as a government funding scheme is established which will cover the costs of your legal representation at the public inquiry.

What is a Public Inquiry?

A public inquiry is a wide ranging independent investigation which is generally set up in response to public concern about an event or series of events. An inquiry typically sets out to establish:
  1. What happened, and why;
  2. What went wrong, and what went right;
  3. What lessons can be learnt to prevent a recurrence of any adverse impacts from these events.
A statutory Inquiry has the legal power to make witnesses appear at inquiry hearings which are held in public, and to provide documentation and material evidence. The terms of reference for a public inquiry sets out the basis for which areas the inquiry will look into. Recommendations are usually made to the government via final reports or interim reports.  

What areas will the UK Covid-19 Inquiry review?

In general terms the Covid-19 public inquiry will examine the UK’s preparedness and response to the Covid-19 pandemic and will seek to learn lessons for the future. Draft terms of reference for the UK Covid-19 inquiry have been released and can be viewed here A consultation process is underway which allows affected individuals and members of the public to have their say on what should be included in the final terms of reference. The closing date for submissions to the consultation is 7th April 2022. You can contribute to the terms of reference via the inquiry’s website. Members of the Northern Ireland branch of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice have raised concerns that the UK Inquiry would not be sufficient to cover issues that arose from the pandemic specifically in Northern Ireland. Baroness Hallett has stated that she will take steps to ensure that bereaved families from all devolved nations are central to the inquiry and that their concerns will be evaluated. Baroness Hallett has also stated that should a devolved public inquiry be established in Northern Ireland she would cooperate fully with that inquiry.  

What happens next?

Once the consultation process on the UK public inquiry’s terms of reference has been completed the final terms of reference will be set and thereafter the inquiry will be formally established. The inquiry will then begin gathering evidence ahead of the public hearings. There is likely to be a significant volume of documentation and information to evaluate ahead of the hearings. The next step will be the public hearings which Baroness Hallett has indicated are due to take place in 2023 for the UK covid inquiry. As solicitors for the Northern Ireland branch of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice we will continue in our efforts to secure a devolved Inquiry in Northern Ireland and, in the alternative, will seek to ensure that the UK inquiry’s terms of reference adequately cover the concerns of bereaved families from Northern Ireland.
 

The legal team

The legal team for the Northern Ireland branch of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice is led by Conal McGarrity and Enda McGarrity of PA Duffy & Company Solicitors. They are assisted by a team of experienced barristers who specialise in public law and human rights. The team have a wealth of experience in dealing with issues of public importance and are also instructed by bereaved families in the Republic of Ireland to seek a public inquiry in to handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in that jurisdiction. We are committed to ensuring that bereaved families get the answers that they deserve and that lessons are learned from the Covid-19 pandemic.

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    Covid-19 Public Inquiry was last modified: May 21st, 2022 by Conal McGarrity