COVID-19 Public Inquiry 

The UK government has announced that an independent public inquiry will be held to examine the UK’s response to the pandemic. A separate inquiry is also taking place in Scotland. 

  • The UK Inquiry is independent from the government, and will involve detailed assessments of:
  • The government’s handling of the pandemic
  • The ways in which individuals, businesses and various groups and aspects of society suffered
  • Lessons that could be learnt for the future and how the government responds to future pandemics/ emergencies, including how your industry is affected and what, if any, support it receives

The Inquiry will provide a unique opportunity for industry, charity and interest group representatives, as well as bereaved family members, to ask the government questions about its decision-making, and to inform the government and the Inquiry of the ways in which their family members, businesses, charities or interest groups were affected by the choices that were made. 

Anyone who was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic can make an application to be granted ‘core participant’ in the Inquiry, or alternatively could be asked by the Inquiry to provide evidence as a witness. We will explain the differences between these designations below.

Previous examples of public inquiries include:

  • Grenfell Tower Inquiry
  • Manchester Arena Inquiry 
  • Iraq Inquiry 
  • Leveson Inquiry 

Given the extremely broad range of matters that the Inquiry will cover, it is anticipated to be the largest public inquiry in UK history in terms of the numbers of core participants and witnesses involved.

What is the current status of the Covid-19 Inquiry?

The Inquiry is not expected to start until 2023, but preliminary stages are already underway.  

The scope of topics that will be covered and considered by the Inquiry are contained in the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference. 

Draft Terms of Reference were published in March 2022 and a consultation was conducted allowing members of the public to provide feedback on the Draft Terms. The Inquiry received over 20,000 responses to the consultation. 

In May 2022, the Chair of the Inquiry made recommendations to the Prime Minister for the scope of the Inquiry to be broadened by amending the Draft Terms of Reference.

At the next stage, the Inquiry is expected to open the application process for individuals and businesses to apply for core participant or witness status.

What is the difference between a core participant and a witness?

Core participants are individuals who will play an active role in the Inquiry by making submissions, posing questions to witnesses and attending most or all hearings of the Inquiries. A core participant is typically a person or organisation who played a significant role in the events under investigation, or who was significantly impacted by those events. 

In the Covid Inquiry, it is anticipated that core participants would include:

  • Government departments
  • Bereaved families
  • NHS staff
  • Business representatives
  • Experts in fields such as health, education and the economy

Witnesses are individuals who are asked by the Inquiry team to produce evidence by way of documents or witness statements. They may be asked to attend a hearing regarding a particular issue to provide their evidence, but would not attend all of the hearings in the Inquiry and would not be entitled to ask questions of other witnesses or participants.

Legal representation at the Inquiry

Law firms are typically encouraged to act for multiple core participants and witnesses in a public inquiry. An application can be made to obtain funding for legal representation, once individuals/ businesses have been granted core participant or witness status.

JMW’s team is experienced in representing clients in public inquiries, with some of our senior partners having previously represented clients during the public inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster. The Covid Inquiry team includes Graham Small, Oliver Wright, Lizzie McPeake and Savanna Nolan, from JMW’s renowned commercial litigation department. 

We are specialists in public law and have been heavily involved in bringing challenges against the government to various Covid-19 restrictions. Our Judicial Review team successfully represented organisations in the hospitality, education and leisure sectors. 

Talk to Us

For more information about the Covid-19 Public Inquiry, please call us on 0345 872 6666, or fill in the online enquiry form on this page to arrange a call back.

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