Kingsley Napley welcomes COVID-19 Inquiry Terms of Reference

Stephen Parkinson, Senior Partner at law firm Kingsley Napley LLP and an expert in Public Inquiries, welcomes the draft Terms of Reference published  by Baroness Hallett and is wholly supportive of their scope.

Earlier this year (see link), Stephen argued for the Terms to be kept focused in order to examine lessons to be learned from the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The alternative approach affording the Inquiry a wider remit of holding the Government to account for its decisions, he argued, would take a great deal of time and not necessarily add value given the majority were political decisions.

“The main purpose of this Inquiry must be to help us grapple with future crises of a similar nature. The objectives that Baroness Hallett has unveiled today require the Inquiry to examine lessons to be learned and I hope that that can be strengthened into a requirement to provide firm recommendations.  While I welcome the fact that the inquiry is being asked to provide a factual narrative of what occurred, I hope that it will not become too distracted by that task.  We don’t need a detailed history of what we already know – we want to know what can be done better in future. That includes how to manage better the impact on businesses and the impact on people’s personal lives from a crisis of this nature.”

In his blog, Stephen called for the COVID-19 inquiry to focus on three key areas:

  1. Planning – the government has accepted already that it was not fully prepared for COVID-19. It planned for an influenza pandemic and its recommendations appear to have been quite general. Crucially there was nothing to guide the government as to how quickly and stringently it should implement measures to contain the virus and no advance planning on lockdown.
  2. The scope of advice the Government received – it is clear that scientific advice dominated Government decision making whilst there was no economic equivalent of SAGE to enable politicians to weigh competing considerations in making their decisions. This imbalance should be investigated.
  1. The process of decision making – whether early decision-making by a handful of individuals should have evolved into a model involving wider Cabinet debate and consultation with affected organisations and businesses. Further Stephen believes questions should be asked about the extent to which the civil service’s crisis management expertise was up to the task in hand and whether wider expertise would have been of benefit.

“Baroness Hallett will now, of course, consult on the proposed Terms as promised but we can see the clear direction of travel she intends the Inquiry to take and I am strongly supportive of that.”

Stephen Parkinson adds: “The danger of Public Inquiries is that they can sometimes be regarded as a talking shop with no clear or useful outcome. The Terms of Reference agreed at the outset are crucial to avoid that. We simply don’t have time for this Inquiry to take years and years, which is what would happen if it became an exercise in apportioning blame, and so I welcome the fact that this does not appear to be what is intended. Given this will be the most important Inquiry of our generation, it is imperative it serves a useful function and I am confident Baroness Hallett is taking the right approach.”

 

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