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A public inquiry into the coronavirus?

The possibility of an inquiry into the country’s response to the coronavirus is something that has been raised with increasing frequency. The number of deaths in care homes alone is clearly a tragedy that needs careful consideration: some have suggested that as many as 1 in 16 care home residents have died due to Covid-19.

Individuals have no right per se to a public inquiry. However, inquiries can be established under the Inquiries Act 2005 which gives the right to establish an inquiry to Ministers of State. The main features of any such inquiry are that it addresses events which have caused, or are capable of causing, public concern. The statutory framework arising from the Act allows witnesses to be compelled to give evidence and documentation to be provided. It ought to be able to dig deeply into the facts, ignoring media or other spin to provide clear recommendations for the future. Whether that is so would of course remain to be seen.

Issues to cover might be:

1. Discharges from hospital

2. The appropriateness of guidance and scientific advice

3. Availability of PPE and the working of the supply chain

4. Testing

5. Funding

6. Integration of services

7. Dis-proportionality of mortality

Any such inquiry is not likely to be an easy task. There are many disparate interests ranging from those of the Government and the NHS, to care providers, families and members of the supply chains. The huge numbers involved would be an obvious challenge.

There is also a risk that the learning is adversely affected by the process being hijacked for political or other agendas. It would also be clearly necessary to address the extent to which information provided might be used in relation to any liability issues arising.

A public inquiry has a consequent cost. It might be suggested that the cheaper option would be to rely upon Parliamentary or other similar investigation, reports from regulators, or (to a lesser extent) inquests. It might also be said that focus needs to be on moving forward.

However, there is clearly a need to learn lessons, and urgently, if only to mitigate the effects of any second wave of virus infections that may arise. The question is, what is the most effective way to do that quickly?


Disclaimer

This briefing is for guidance purposes only. RadcliffesLeBrasseur LLP accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken or not taken in relation to this note and recommends that appropriate legal advice be taken having regard to a client's own particular circumstances.

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