The public hearings for Module 1 (preparedness and resilience) of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry have now come to an end, and the Inquiry has announced it expects to publish its report on Module 1 by summer 2024. Although we do not yet know the Inquiry’s view on the evidence given in Module 1, the general picture that unfolded from the hearings – which included witness evidence from household names such as George Osborne, Michael Gove, Matt Hancock and Chris Whitty – was that the UK was ill-prepared for a coronavirus pandemic. Witnesses spent time discussing possible causes for this, and suggestions included the time spent on Brexit, and cuts brought about by austerity measures (those in charge at the time mostly denied both connections). What seems clear is that there will be criticism coming from the inquiry further to this Module’s work on preparedness and resilience so far.
Now that the Module 1 hearings are over, thoughts turn to Module 2 – core UK decision-making and political governance. Public hearings for Module 2 will open on 3 October 2023 (this is a little behind the previously advertised schedule of summer 2023) and will run until December 2023. Modules 2A, 2B and 2C will look at decision-making and governance in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively and will begin in early 2024. Core Participant applications are now closed for Module 2.
In early July, the Cabinet Office lost its judicial review claim against the Chair of the Inquiry in relation to her Module 2 notice requiring the Cabinet Office to provide evidence including Boris Johnson’s Whatsapp messages with advisers (particularly those held on Henry Cook’s devices), and Johnson’s diaries. The Cabinet Office argued it should not be compelled to provide this evidence because the Chair’s powers of compulsion under the Inquiries Act did not extend to irrelevant material, that her notice must therefore be limited by reference to relevance, and that the entirety of the material compelled by the Chair under her notice was irrelevant. The Court rejected these arguments, and shortly after the judgment the Chair issued an updated notice to the Cabinet Office requiring unredacted disclosure of the evidence by 10 July 2023. The evidence will now go through a process under the Inquiry’s own redactions protocol in order for the Inquiry to make a judgment about what should be withheld from wider dissemination and/or redacted prior to disclosure to other core participants. The judicial review underlines the wideranging and effective powers of compulsion that the Inquiry enjoys. There will certainly be a lot of public interest in this evidence when the substantive hearings for Module 2 begin.
We now know that the public hearings for Module 3 (healthcare) will take place after the public hearings for Module 4 (vaccines and therapeutics). They are now expected to commence in summer 2024. Module 3 will investigate ‘healthcare governance, primary care, NHS backlogs, the effects on healthcare provision by vaccination programmes as well as Long Covid diagnosis and support’. Core Participant applications are now closed for Module 3.
Public hearings for Module 4 will be taking place prior to those for Module 3. There will be a preliminary hearing for Module 4 on Wednesday 13 September 2023 and we expect the substantive public hearings to begin after that (firm dates have not yet been announced). Core Participant applications are now closed for Module 4.
Module 5 (government procurement) is expected to open in October 2023, with core participant applications accepted between 24 October to 17 November 2023 and public hearings likely to take place in early 2025.
Module 6 (the care sector) is expected to open in December 2023, with core participant applications accepted between 12 December 2023 to 19 January 2024 and public hearings likely to take place in spring 2025.
Future modules in the Inquiry (for which key information has not yet been announced) will cover:
- Testing and tracing
- The Government’s business and financial responses
- Health inequalities and the impact of Covid-19
- Education, children and young persons
- Other public services, including frontline delivery by key workers