Stephen Harvey QC calls out the difficulties and offers solutions for new Covid Inquiry   

15th February 2022

BW 21 04 2020

3PB's crime and regulatory Silk Stephen Harvey QC - well-known for his public access work for businesses - has called the newly-announced Covid Inquiry under Baroness Heather Hallett DBE as "unprecedentedly complex" and "obvious tensions will exist as to the necessary breadth and scope of the Inquiry and the competing need to produce its report within a reasonable period of time. This promises to be an almost irreconcilable problem. Past examples, such as the Bloody Sunday Inquiry which took 12 years to complete, would be a totally unacceptable period over which this inquiry can take.”

Stephen, pictured here, said in an article published this week by the Law Society Gazette: "Many will want to contribute to it, and the whole process, particularly the initial process of identifying who will be the main core participants, will need to be done in a way in order to maintain the public confidence necessary for the inquiries integrity and for the integrity of the inquiry process generally. Perhaps this is particularly so given recent events and revelations as to what may have happened in Downing Street."

His article in the solicitors' professions magazine praises Baroness Hallett, stating that: "We can be assured that the entire process will be as well served as it could possibly be. Under her leadership we have the very best chances of a report emerging which will satisfy the British public that a thorough, fair and objective analysis has been conducted on their behalf and that both criticisms and praise for those involved has been accurately apportioned."

A number of potential steps to help expedite the process are considered in his article including the need to be an overarching inquiry, with separate aspects of the inquiry focussing upon different aspects, groups and issues, with there being an eventual consolidation of the findings by the chairman in a conventional style of inquiry report. Stephen suggests : "Lessons might be taken from the Inquiries into Undercover Policing and the Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry, both of which published Lists defining further their scope which then were discussed with the relevant parties"; and identifying who are the "Interested parties, core participants and other consultees....will be, provides Baroness Hallett with another significant and immediate challenge. His assessment continues: "the inquiry must give due consideration to inhuman or degrading treatment being inflicted upon anyone and consider, in particular, the care home and end of life issues in respect of which restrictions affected many."

The Government's SAGE committee has said, as recently as late December 2021, that there should be four separate inquiries. Its report states that an appraisal will also need to be made of the ways in which different departments of government reacted, the timings of their respective actions and comparisons drawn as to the actions and timings of the devolved administrations themselves. Its report said all the inquiries must be inclusive and seek to take a comprehensive view of the pandemic response, echoing the view expressed by Boris Johnson. As Stephen says, "at the time of writing, there are only the English and Scottish inquiries due to take place."

You can read a copy of the full article, published in the Law Society Gazette.

If you would like to contact Stephen about this article or the Covid Inquiry, please email him at [email protected].