On the 9th July 2020 on behalf of the Law Centres Network, and with the support of Amnesty International and over 70 grassroots and civil society organisations, we wrote to the Prime Minister demanding that a Public Inquiry is called to urgently consider lessons that can be learned from the Government’s handling of COVID 19.
On the 15th July 2020, and in response to a question from the leader of Liberal Democrats – Ed Davey MP regarding the need for a public inquiry the Prime Minister said:
“As I have told the House several times, I do not believe that now, in the middle of combating the pandemic as we are, is the right moment to devote huge amounts of official time to an inquiry, but of course we will seek to learn the lessons of the pandemic in the future, and certainly we will have an independent inquiry into what happened.”
Whilst we welcome the commitment to an independent inquiry, important questions remain.
What type of Inquiry does the Prime Minister have in mind?
Any independent inquiry needs to be a statutory public inquiry and be chaired by a Judge sitting with a panel of experts in public health, race, disability and social care.
Central to such an inquiry must be the families who have lost loved ones. It must involve health and public sector workers, and their trade unions. It must also hear from civil society organisations including law centres, campaign groups, and others on the frontline.
Contrary to the Prime Minister’s statement, an Inquiry cannot wait. Echoing the demands of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families Justice Group, we call on the Government to:
i) Convene an immediate public inquiry within the next 3 months into the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Such an Inquiry is necessary to prepare for a potential second wave of the virus, to learn lessons and ensure that the necessary steps are taken to prevent a further crisis in health and care provision;
ii) Commit to a longer-term, independent public inquiry in order to adequately address the many concerns not only outlined in our letter of the 9th July 2020 but also those raised by the groups and organisations who have supported it, as well as the Covid-19 Bereaved Families Justice Group; and
iii) Finally, both the immediate and long-term inquiry must be independent, properly resourced and chaired by a Judge, but also employ a panel of experts with a wide range experiences of understanding surrounding issues of racism, disabilities, frontline and low paid work as well as public health and social care. There would need to be full and frank disclosure of all the evidence, including statements and live evidence from Ministers so that they may be properly held to account.
We are not convinced by the Prime Minister’s vague promise of an Inquiry at some point in the future. Not only is his statement lacking in detail, but crucially lacks the urgency that is required in order to ensure that lessons are learned, and adequate measures are put in place to prevent further unnecessary loss of life prior to a second wave.