Covid Inquiry Questions & Answers
Broudie Jackson Canter's Inquiry solicitors understand that the processes surrounding a statutory Inquiry will be unfamiliar to most people. The way Inquiries are run can seem over-complicated and gives the impression they are not easily accessible to the very people they are seeking to help. We've created this section on our website to help members of the Covid-19 families for justice group and clients through every step of the Inquiry process. Here, you can find the answers to the most common questions that our Inquiry solicitors have been asked about the statutory Covid Inquiry. These questions have been asked on both our 'Live Newsletter' webinars and through the general queries that we are receiving. You can download a copy of the questions and answers as a PDF. You can also find information on how to get legal representation if you'd like your voice to be heard at the statutory Inquiry.
If you have a question that has not been answered, then please do join the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group and you'll receive an invitation to our next 'Live Newsletter' webinar. You can also catch up on our previous newsletters here. In the meantime, here are the FAQs...
General Covid Inquiry FAQs
Q: What happens now that the Inquiry has been set up?
A: The first preliminary hearing took place on 4th October. The recording can be viewed on the Inquiry website. Module 2 hearings are set to take place during the first week of November 2022. Public hearings are set to begin in May 2023. In the meantime, we await disclosure from the other Core Participants.
Q. Why is it important that the Covid Inquiry is a statutory inquiry?
A. This is vital because a statutory inquiry is governed by the Inquiries Act 2005 and has the power to compel witnesses (including the Prime Minister/former PM) to attend and answer under oath. It also can compel production of documents and the requirement to involve the bereaved.
Q. How does this affect the bereaved, those like me?
A. The Inquiries Act 2005 gives you the right to effective participation in the Inquiry process, including the right to full disclosure and the right to be legally represented. This means that you will be on a level playing field with government departments, Ministers, other public authorities and corporate interests.
Q. Will I have to pay anything?
A. The Government has now approved a funding scheme (Costs protocol) which will cover the cost of legal representation for Core Participants (CP). This funding is not means tested, which is a huge positive. If therefore you are given CP status (which is almost certain if you have lost a loved one) and, if we are approved as your legal representatives (which is also almost certain), then the government will cover all your legal costs relating to the Inquiry. We can confirm that there will be no costs incurred by you.
Q. Could this Inquiry take years and years?
A. The depressing side of this answer is that the Hillsborough Inquiry took almost 30 years. Other Inquiries (like the Infected Blood Inquiry) took even longer. What we are now pursuing is a process which starts as soon as possible and runs as quickly as it can while ensuring all issues relevant to the bereaved are properly explored. We've proposed that there needs to be a discussion about how quickly the Inquiry can be completed. Of course, we want no stone left unturned, but with the right resources there's no reason why this Inquiry needs to take 5-10 years like others have. The longer this Inquiry takes, the less justice you will get and the less impact any recommendations that are made will have.
Q. What preparatory work is involved?
A. The Inquiry is a massive undertaking and you must be involved at every stage, including key issues like the scope of the inquiry, the make-up of the panel, the timetable and timescale, the evidence to be called, interim reports on urgent matters and geographical coverage.
Q. What can we as individuals do to support the work of the legal team?
A. You can help in two ways 1. On the legal front and 2. On the non-legal front. On the legal front, we would encourage you to write down your recollections of what happened as soon as you feel comfortable doing so. The sooner you do this, the more accurate your recollections are likely to be. That said, we realise how upsetting that process can be and only you can decide when the best time is for you to recall and document what happened to your family. On the non-legal front, you may be able to assist the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group by playing a part in that group. Although we are liaising with and supporting the group we, the lawyers, are not coordinating the campaign of the group so any assistance you can provide on that front has to be through them.
Q. Will individual family members be given an opportunity to give evidence at the Inquiry?
A. We would hope so. It would be a contradiction of all proper principles that should be applied (about putting families and the bereaved at the heart of the process) if family members were not able to give evidence in person. However, it is ultimately up to the Chair of the Inquiry to determine how the process will unfold. The fact is that we'll only know for sure after a lot of work has been done and submissions made on behalf of the bereaved. As a legal team we will be working tirelessly to make sure the Inquiry represents the best interests of all the families that are involved. Please also be aware that inevitably it will not be possible for every family member to give formal evidence. The listening exercise may go some way towards addressing that, but the details have not yet been finalised.
Q. Could the outcome of the Inquiry lead to criminal prosecution?
A. An Inquiry cannot determine either criminal or civil liability, so the answer on that level is no. The full answer is much more complicated. The Inquiry should lay bare all of the evidence, at that point conclusions can be reached that can in turn inform other processes. The police and the prosecuting authorities will be watching the Inquiry very closely. The outcome of an Inquiry often leads to a matter of law being considered by prosecuting authorities. In the Hillsborough Inquiry, for instance, the jury concluded that the deceased had been unlawfully killed. That conclusion was a catalyst for criminal prosecutions. There were also civil proceedings where people managed to gain compensation. However, it's important to understand that each of those were separate processes to the initial Inquiry.
Q. When will the Inquiry report findings? Will there be interim reports?
A. Absolutely. The Chair has announced a modular approach to the Covid Inquiry. We expect reports will be published at the end of each module
Q. In a nutshell what is single goal of this Inquiry?
A. Examine the preparedness for COVID-19 and the actual response to it, and the impact of the pandemic in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Inquiry should produce an evidenced, official, definitive, factual narrative account, determine accountability for failures which contributed to loss of life, suffering and hardships. Finally it will make recommendations to ensure the lessons learned from this episode inform the UK’s preparations for future pandemics.
Q: Can you tell us briefly what each Module is?
A: Lady Hallett has announced three modules so far:
- Module 1 is focused on Preparedness. You can find more information on the scope of Module 1 here: https://covid19.public-inquiry.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Module-1-Outline-of-Scope.pdf
- Module 2 and its sub modules will examine political and administrative decision-making of the UK and devolved governments.
- Module 2 will examine decisions taken by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, as advised by the Civil Service, senior political, scientific and medical advisers, and relevant Cabinet sub-committees.
- Module 2A will examine key groups and individuals within the Scottish Government including the First Minister and other Scottish Ministers.
- Module 2B will examine the decision-making of key groups and individuals within the government in Wales including the First Minister and other Welsh Ministers.
- Module 2C will examine the decision-making of key groups and individuals within the government in Northern Ireland including the First Minister, deputy First Minister and other Ministers.
- Module 3 is government and societal responses (healthcare, patients, hospitals, primary care, NHS backlogs, long covid). First modules the Inquiry will investigate. Other modules will be published in later months. Vaccines, antivirals, care sector, gov procurement of PPE, test and trace, business impacts, health inequalities, children and young people, impact of Covid-19 on the public sector.
A. The Inquiry will look at more general issues and not specific claims of negligence. You can open a separate negligence case and be involved in the Inquiry however currently we know that it is very difficult to find legal representation willing to take on cases of covid related medical negligence.
Q. Surely the institution (or its people) that are under scrutiny should not be setting the Terms of Reference?
A. Correct, but this is what the Act states has to happen. In this case The Chair made recommendations about the what the Terms of Reference should include and this was in part based on some of her meetings with bereaved during the Consultations. We also made submissions on the Terms of Reference and we are satisfied that they are drafted widely enough to ensure that all the specific issues that should be investigated will be.