On 28 June, the Prime Minister set the Terms of Reference of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, which means that the Inquiry has been formally established under the Inquiries Act 2005. Find out the key changes, Inquiry topics and next steps in our insight.

The final Terms of Reference have expanded, with inequality as the main theme

The public consultation on the draft terms of reference resulted in 20,000 responses. All of the recommendations made by the Chair of the Inquiry, Baroness Heather Hallett, following the consultation were accepted by the Prime Minister. As a result, the Terms of Reference have expanded. The most significant changes from the draft are:

  • The inquiry will consider the impact of the pandemic on children and young people and on the mental health and well-being of the UK population.
  • The Inquiry will consider the collaboration between regional, devolved and national governments and the voluntary and community sectors.

Access the final terms of reference here.

A key theme for Inquiry to pursue is how the effects of the pandemic were felt unequally across different groups of people.

Notably, the Inquiry’s press announcement made the point that while the Terms of Reference set the outline for the Inquiry, “the Chair will have the discretion to explore issues in more scope as part of the Inquiry’s outlook.”

Which key topics will the Inquiry address?

Along with the Terms of Reference, the Chair issued a video message in which she stressed seven key points.

  1. People who have suffered during the pandemic will be at the heart of the Inquiry’s work. There was a commitment to listening to people’s experiences.
  2. The Inquiry will be “firmly independent”. The Chair issued a strong warning against any attempt to mislead or undermine the Inquiry. She further said that if she encounters any such attempt then she will make her views known in open court.
  3. The Chair will do everything in her power to conduct a fair, balanced and thorough Inquiry.
  4. The Inquiry will produce interim reports so that recommendations can be made as soon as possible.
  5. The Inquiry will not only be held in London. The Chair stressed that she understands that experiences were different across the UK.
  6. The Inquiry will be conducted openly with regular updates on its website.
  7. The Inquiry will be conducted as efficiently and speedily as possible.

Timeframe for the Inquiry

The Inquiry team has started to prepare for public evidential hearings in 2023, which makes for an ambitious timetable. The process of gathering and assessing evidence will begin shortly and the Chair is to set out her approach on this in July. There is a commitment to begin a “listening exercise” during the autumn to allow individuals to share their experience with the Inquiry. There is no indication as yet as to the format that this exercise will take. No target date is set for when the Inquiry aims to conclude its work.

Capsticks’ view on the scope of the Inquiry

This will be an Inquiry of exceptional breadth and complexity. To take one example from the Terms of Reference, under the section on the aims of the Inquiry, sub-paragraph 1a) vi) is to look at “legislative and regulatory control and enforcement”. By itself this one sub-paragraph could plainly involve a huge amount of potential evidence.

The scale of the Inquiry is further evidenced by the fact that the Inquiry has, in addition to the lead counsel, Hugo Keith QC, announced the appointment of 11 additional QCs and 49 junior counsel.

While it is anticipated that the inquiry will operate in separate modules to make progress, and the Chair’s statement made commitment to interim reports, we can still expect the Inquiry to run for many years before it finally concludes.

How Capsticks can help

The Capsticks team has been closely involved in establishing and working on statutory public inquiries and other major investigations for many years. We have worked on all of the major statutory public inquiries over the last decade.

Now that the Terms of Reference for the Inquiry have been finalised, we can help you understand inquiry processes and also guide you on data collection and storage, as well as what steps your organisation should carry out now – for example whether and how in due course an application for core participant status should be made.

In general, all organisations should have now issued stop notices, as per the advice that NHS England issued last year.

For further information on the services we can provide both now and as the Inquiry process continues to take shape, please follow this link.

If you have any queries around what's discussed in this article, and the impact on your organisation, please speak to Francis Lyons, Georgia Ford, Hugh Giles, Adam Hartrick or Tracey Lucas to find out more about how Capsticks can help.