Inquests & Public Inquiries
Civil Liberties

Public inquiry will see Government’s handling of Covid-19 pandemic rightly placed under full scrutiny

Covid 19 public inquiry

Terry Wilcox

Associate Solicitor and Manager of Public Inquiries

3 min read time
13 May 2021

Despite the debate over its scheduled start next year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement of an independent public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic is one to be welcomed.

There has been some criticism of the proposed start date of next spring and the potential political motives given the inquiry could go on beyond the date of the next General Election.

However, with scientists continually warning of the unpredictability and possible impact of any new Covid-19 variant outbreaks in winter, the delay until next year is perhaps understandable at this time.

Given more than 127,000 people have died in the UK within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test since the pandemic began last year, and Covid-19 has been mentioned on more than 150,000 death certificates, it is only right that the Government’s response comes under such close scrutiny, with evidence heard from key people under oath.

Mr Johnson, who Number 10 says is willing to be questioned himself, said that “amid such tragedy the state has an obligation to examine its actions as rigorously and as candidly as possible” and “learn every lesson for the future”.

He added: “We owe it to the country to have as much transparency as we possibly can.”

That is a statement we certainly agree with.

Terms of reference at Covid-19 public inquiry need to be far reaching

Key issues now will include ensuring that a highly experienced judge is appointed to lead the inquiry, and one who will ensure the terms of reference which set out exactly what the process will examine are as far reaching and wide as possible. This will allow the full facts to be established and as many lessons learned as can be in accordance with the pledge of Mr Johnson.

That means every document and key decision must be scrutinised, whilst the public inquiry must hear evidence from all the key players involved.

Ensuring families who lost loved ones play an integral part in the inquiry and are consulted, as well as frontline workers in both the care and commercial sectors, is also essential for it have any credibility.

There are of course many issues which need to be considered, from the Government’s preparation and planning for such an event and the decision making over lockdowns and restrictions to the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for doctors and nurses working on the NHS frontline in the initial weeks of the coronavirus outbreak.

The many thousands of deaths in care and residential homes, where people were discharged into from hospital without consideration for them to be tested for Covid-19, will also surely be a significant part of the inquiry.

Whatever the final outcome of the inquiry, the process must not be allowed to become a blame game influenced by political motive or the protection of careers.

The goal is to ensure complete transparency and for lessons to be learned from the mistakes made.

The Government must be held publicly, but fairly, to account over its response, enabling us as a country to be better prepared to protect its citizens should another terrible pandemic happen again.

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Public inquiry will see Government’s handling of Covid-19 pandemic rightly placed under full scrutiny

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