The public inquiry into COVID-19 published its terms of reference earlier this summer, with its first ‘promise’ being that ‘People who have suffered during the pandemic will be at the heart of the inquiry’s work’. Simon Burall, Senior Associate at Involve, asks what this really means in practice, and suggests three questions we should ask ourselves to determine whether this promise is kept.
We have been locked down at least twice (and more depending on where you live in the country), schools have been closed, businesses lost and household budgets squeezed. To date, there have been over 200,000 deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate. Nobody has remained untouched by the pandemic.
The UK COVID-19 Public Inquiry has been set-up to explore the impact of the pandemic, to examine the UK’s response, and to learn lessons for the future. Given the widespread impact of the pandemic, the Chair of the Inquiry, Baroness (Heather) Hallett is absolutely right to want to put the public at the heart of its work. It should be celebrated that this is the first of seven ‘promises’ that the inquiry has published. However, this ambition – and the inquiry in general – comes with risks. If this ambition is not met, and the public deem the inquiry to have failed to pass fair judgement, it could further undermine existing low levels of public trust in our politics.
So, this blogpost lays out three questions we will be asking to judge the extent to which the inquiry is keeping this promise, as it progresses in the months to come.
Are the public part of passing judgement and proposing plans for the future, or just witnesses?
The inquiry has been formally constituted and has a legal status as laid out in the 2005 Inquiries Act. The act lays out the statutory framework for the appointment of the Chair, how it should take evidence and produce its report. This will obviously, and rightly, restrict the ways in which the public can be involved, but there is much more the inquiry could do beyond publishing standard consultation questions, inviting a tiny number of members of the public as witnesses and meeting with specific groups which were particularly affected.Continue reading