UK Covid-19 Inquiry creeps towards the starting blocks

The first hearings for the official UK Covid-19 Inquiry are fast approaching – though less quickly than originally anticipated, with the start date now delayed to Tuesday 13 June.

Although public hearings are yet to get under way, the Inquiry has nonetheless had a busy February and March, with preliminary hearings for Modules 1 (pandemic preparedness and resilience), 2 (political and administrative decision-making) and 3 (impact on the healthcare sector) all taking place.

The second Module 1 preliminary hearing, on Valentine’s Day, resulted in an important alteration to the overall Inquiry schedule, with the start date for Module 1 hearings moved back from early May of this year to Tuesday 13 June 2023. Module 1 of the Inquiry is now due to run for six weeks (from Tuesday 13 June until Friday 21 July 2023).

In delaying the start of proceedings proper, Inquiry Chair Baroness Hallett was responding to the concerns expressed by some Core Participants about the increasingly late disclosure to them of evidence. Baroness Hallett acknowledged the very large volume of evidence being dealt with by the Inquiry team – and in particular the amount of redaction required – but rejected calls to order the disclosure of so-called ‘Rule 9 requests’.

Under Rule 9 of the Inquiry Rules 2006, an Inquiry must send a written request for evidence to any person they wish to produce evidence. By 14 February 2023, 160 Rule 9 requests had been made, but only three Rule 9 documents had been disclosed to Core Participants. They had argued that disclosing any such requests would speed up the Inquiry process by helping them prepare while awaiting the evidence itself.

This delay is unlikely to be the last setback for anyone hoping for a quick resolution to draw a line under the pandemic. Looking specifically at Module 1, Counsel for the Trades Union Congress (TUC) had argued that the third Module 1 preliminary hearing, now scheduled for 25 April 2023, would need to take place no later than 28 March in order not to risk further delays to the start of the public hearings. That plea fell on deaf ears, and we may therefore be wise to expect arguments in favour of a further delay to the Inquiry at that third Module 1 preliminary hearing on 25 April.

The broader picture here is of an Inquiry team making slow progress through the volume of evidence being produced to the Inquiry, and concerns from Core Participants about a lack of time to review the evidence being disclosed to them. If this pattern holds for every module of the Inquiry, further delay is likely.

Additionally, the delay of Module 1 will also impact the scheduling of Module 2. Indeed, a further preliminary hearing for Module 2 is expected ‘before the summer’ but is yet to be timetabled.

Nonetheless, the Inquiry is making progress. The Inquiry team was due to produce a list of issues for Module 1 to Core Participants by 8 March. No doubt these will be discussed at the next Module 1 preliminary hearing on 25 April. This should provide a clearer indication of the scope of Module 1 – a mere seven weeks from the start of the formal public hearings.


This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.


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