This week, it was officially announced that the government will be launching an enquiry into the COVID epidemic and the way in which the government handled it. This inquiry is a blessing to many bereaved families who feel that the government mishandled the epidemic breakout, and here’s what we know about it so far.
What is an inquiry?
An inquiry is a major investigation launched by the government to respond to public concern. This is usually about a particular event or set of events, and the inquiry aims to ask what happened, why, who is to blame, and what can be done to stop it from happening again?
Inquiries have the power to make people appear as witnesses in order to answer these questions and help the leader of the inquiry write up a report in order to make recommendations to the government.
What do we know about the COVID inquiry?
The inquiry will launch in Spring 2022, in order to delay putting too much stress on the NHS whilst COVID is still a risk. When Kier Starmer and bereaved families questioned this choice, Boris Johnson has said that with the danger of a winter wave, it is too risky to begin an inquiry now.
At the moment, the exact aims and layout of the COVID inquiry are unclear, and will be updated and released closer to the start date. Likewise, at the moment, it is unclear how long the inquiry will take. Some inquiries, like the Bloody Sunday inquiry, can take as long as 12 years. Experts reckon this will take at least 2 to 3 years.
During the inquiry, the chair can call whoever they like to give evidence or provide documents. If the person under call refuses or fails to appear or provide documents, they can be punished with up to 51 weeks in prison.
Who will lead the COVID inquiry?
Again, this will not be announced until closer to the start date. Ministers can appoint whoever they must be independent of the government. They are quite often judges or experts that are chosen for their knowledge, and ministers also have the power to fire the chair.
How common are public inquiries?
Public inquiries are relatively common – there are currently 11 underway. One of which has received a lot of attention: The Grenfell Inquiry.
Will the public be able to see the inquiry unfold?
The PM has confirmed that the results of the inquiry will be revealed ‘in public, under oath’, like with many other inquiries. This means some level of closure for families who are still mourning for their lost ones.