The first preliminary hearing of the UK COVID-19 public inquiry (“The Inquiry”) will begin today, 4 October 2022. The one-day hearing was previously scheduled last month but was delayed after the death of Queen Elizabeth II. The Inquiry preliminary hearing, will focus on the UK’s pandemic preparedness before 2020.
What is the purpose of The Inquiry?
It will be largely procedural, involving lawyers and an announcement about who will be giving evidence. Public hearings where witnesses are called to testify will not start until spring 2023. The Inquiry can compel witnesses to give evidence and release documents but it has no powers to prosecute or fine anyone. The commencement of this first preliminary hearing is still being seen as an important milestone for the families who lost loved ones. Ms Lindsay Jackson, of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Campaign group, said it was essential lessons were learned for the future after losing her mother Sylvia. She said:
“It’s two-and-a-half years since the pandemic started. We lost so many people. If people have done things wrong, they need to be held accountable. For me, my family and the others who lost loved ones, it’s important that answers are found to the questions that we have.”
Who is running The Inquiry?
The Inquiry will be chaired by former High Court Judge Baroness Hallett. The Inquiry is set to include so much content that is has been broken down into three separate modules. They will investigate the following:
- The planning and preparedness
- The political decision-making
- The health care provided
It is likely the following topics will be discussed:
- The care sector
- Government procurement
- Test and trace
- Business and finance
- Health inequalities
The public hearings which commence after the preliminary hearings are expected to start in 2023. For module one it is expected to start in spring 2023, with module two to start later in the year. The government approach, relying on scientists to manage the situation and in effect achieve herd immunity by infection, had delayed the announcement of a first lockdown, which has been criticised and suspected to have cost thousands of lives. It will be decisions such as this that will be reviewed through The Inquiry.