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An insight into the UK Covid Inquiry

The 2023 Chambers UK Guide includes a new table, Public Inquiries, this new coverage of this important area of law was created to reflect the number of inquiries in the UK. Discover the insights of the largest inquiry in this year's research, the Covid Inquiries.

Published on 14 October 2022
Written by Mohammed Abraar
Mohammed Abraar

What do we currently know about the UK inquiry?

The UK Covid Inquiry, which is being chaired by Baroness Heather Hallett, is in its very early stages after the final terms of reference were set out in summer 2022. Currently, at the time of writing (in early October) the preliminary hearing of Module 1 is being heard, concerning the preparedness and response of the UK government.  

In the late autumn, the preliminary hearing of Module 2 will be heard and will cover political and administrative decision-making of the UK and devolved governments with a focus on early 2020.

“There are more firms involved in public inquiries now.” – Lawyer 

Which individuals or groups are likely to get core participant status?

Core participant status is important for a number of reasons and allows groups of individuals to meaningfully engage with the public inquiry. Some of the benefits of being a core participant include being able to suggest some lines of questioning, the ability to make statements at specific points of inquiry hearings, as well as receiving advance access to the report. 

The Inquiry has asked applicants to make applications for core participant status for specific modules, rather than the inquiry as a whole. As such, we don’t know who all of the core participants are. However, they are likely to be bereaved families, business associations or groups, educational institutions, trade unions, as well as government departments, and many others. 

“The Covid inquiry will be huge. There are all sorts of inquiries in the background, too: it is a hugely growing practice area. There will be periods where politicians of the day will divert attention away from themselves using a gamble that they won't have to deal with the repercussions because of how long inquiries usually take. We're definitely in a period where there is high activity.” – Lawyer 

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Who are some of the law firms involved in the inquiry?

The Cabinet Office has instructed Burges Salmon to provide legal services on behalf of the UK inquiry as well as Fieldfisher, who are appointed as a key subcontractor. Other government departments have awarded a number of contracts to national law firms, such as TLT for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; Pinsent Masons for the Department for Health and Social Care; DWF for the Department for Education; and Gowling WLG for the Department for International Trade. 

There are many other law firms that have strong public inquiries practices that are likely to gain key roles in the Covid inquiry: both acting for institutional clients, as well as groups of individuals. For instance, one of the largest groups of bereaved individuals – the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group – is represented in the Covid inquiry by Broudie Jackson Canter. On the other hand, law firms such as Bevan Brittan could potentially pick up instructions to act for commissioners, providers and regulators in the healthcare sector.

What can we expect moving forward with the inquiry?

There are still many moving parts with the UK inquiry, and many issues still to be resolved. However, we do know that public hearings are set to begin in Spring 2023 and we also know that there are more modules to be announced in due course. 


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