On 21 July the Chair of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry gave an opening statement and set out in greater detail than previously how the Inquiry is going to function, including the breakdown of its first three ‘modules’. Find out what each module, Core Participant status and the Costs Protocol mean in practice for you.

Please note: If you consider applying for ‘Core Participant’ status in Module 1, focussing on national pandemic preparedness, you must do so by 16 August.

What was discussed in the opening statement?

The full text of the opening statement can be accessed here.

In addition to the opening statement, the Chair has published its:

  • provisional outline of Module 1
  • Core Participant protocol
  • Costs protocol.

In the opening statement, the Chair sets out briefly the timeline and history of the pandemic. She acknowledges the very wide scope of the terms of reference and how, as a consequence, she will need to focus on the key issues. The Chair also acknowledges the importance of undertaking and concluding work as soon as possible to learn lessons for any future pandemics. Health inequalities will be a key theme to be explored by the Inquiry.

The Inquiry will proceed on a modular basis

This means that the Inquiry will be producing regular reports following the conclusion of each module. The first three modules are to be opened this year, with preliminary hearings before the end of 2022 and substantive public hearings in late Spring 2023.

We now have much more detail about Module 1 which opened on 21 July. This module will:

“examine the resilience and preparedness of the United Kingdom. Was the risk of a Coronavirus pandemic properly identified and planned for? Was the UK ready for such an eventuality?”

The provisional scope set out for Module 1, which is subject to submissions from Core Participants and counsel to the Inquiry, makes clear that it will look at, amongst other things, resourcing and government decision-making.

The process for making an application for Core Participant status for Module 1 has now opened with a deadline for applications of 16 August.

Module 2 is to open in late August and will be split into two parts – (1) UK-wide and (2) national (modules 2A, 2B and 2C). The first part will look at the “core political and administrative governance and decision-making for the UK”. This will include the initial UK response to the pandemic and will address central government decision-making. This module will look at lockdowns and all the other restrictions that were imposed, including Parliamentary oversight and ‘regulatory control’. Having considered these issues from a UK perspective, Modules 2A, 2B and 2C will consider the same issues from the perspective of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Module 3 does not yet have an opening date and there are currently fewer details available in respect of it. We know that it will:

“…examine the impact of Covid, and of the governmental and societal responses to it, on healthcare systems generally and on patients, hospital and other healthcare workers and staff. Among other issues, it will investigate healthcare systems and governance, hospitals, primary care (including GPs and dentists), the impact on NHS backlogs and non Covid treatment, the effects on healthcare provision of vaccination programmes and Long Covid diagnosis and support.”

Who should apply for Core Participant status?

Organisations will now decide whether they need to apply for Core Participant status for any, or all, of the first three modules. While some individuals, groups and organisations may apply to be Core Participants in more than one module, separate applications are needed for each module, rather than for the Inquiry as a whole. This is clearly an attempt to make the overall process more manageable by limiting the number of Core Participants. Applicants are also invited to group themselves together with others of a similar interest wherever possible.

The Core Participant Protocol contains a helpful summary of the benefits of the status, in particular around:

  • the provision of electronic disclosure
  • the right to make opening and closing statements
  • the right to suggest lines of questioning to be pursued by Counsel
  • the right to apply to the Inquiry to ask questions of witnesses during a hearing.

The Protocol sets out the process for making an application, including the test in the Inquiry Rules 2006 that the Chair needs to take into account in determining an application. In summary, this is whether

  • an individual (or organisation) has played a significant role in the matters under consideration
  • they have a significant interest in an important aspect of the matters to which the Inquiry relates
  • they may be subject to explicit of significant criticism during the proceedings or in any report.

The Costs Protocol

This Protocol sets out the detailed arrangements under which the Inquiry will make an award in respect of expenses incurred during legal representation. Paragraph 8 of the general principles to be applied makes it clear that:

“Awards will generally not be made …in respect of the legal expenses of substantial bodies, or of individuals who could reasonably expect to be met by such bodies, unless there are special circumstances which justify a call on public funds.”

How Capsticks can help

If you would like to discuss an issue in relation to Core Participant status in any of the first three modules, or have any other queries around the Covid-19 Public Inquiry’s impact on your organisation, please speak to Georgia Ford, Hugh Giles, Adam Hartrick, Francis Lyons or Tracey Lucas to find out more about how Capsticks can help.