Thursday 21 December 2023

Could the terms of the Covid 19 Inquiry be changed?

The Telegraph reports that MPs and peers fear the Covid Inquiry has already decided lockdowns were not hard enough (

According to the article, a group of MPs and Peers have the opinion that the Inquiry seems to have already decided that lockdown was necessary and that the inquiry has been focused on whether  pandemic interventions should have been implemented “harder, sooner and for longer”.

It is reported that - 'The scathing comments come in a letter sent to Mr Sunak on Wednesday and signed by more than 20 MPs, peers and scientific experts, demanding he intervenes to change the official scope of the inquiry.'

Would it be possible to change the official scope of the inquiry? The simplistic answer

is Yes but it may prove to be a problematic course of action. 

The UK Covid 19 Inquiry was set up by the Prime Minister - then Boris Johnson - with Baroness Hallett appointed to chair the inquiry and with Terms of Reference agreed with her.

The Inquiry operates under the Inquiries Act 2005.

Scotland is operating a separate Inquiry but co-operation with the UK Inquiry has been agreed.

Wales and Northern Ireland are covered by the UK Inquiry but would doubtless have a view about any proposal to alter the terms of reference.

Inquiries Act 2005 section 5 provides that the Minister may at any time after setting out the terms of reference ... amend them if he considers that the public interest so requires.


there is a requirement to consult the chair of the Inquiry.

Naturally, the Inquiry chair would have a view about any proposals to alter the terms of reference and is not under any legal obligation to continue in post if government opted to press ahead with a change against any objections.

Whether to impose a "lockdown" in early 2020 was ultimately a decision for Ministers would had legal powers under the Public Health  (Control of Disease) Act 1984 to make Regulations. Those powers included an emergency power (section 45R) which was used extensively throughout the pandemic. Ultimately, all legislation was subject to approval by Parliament.

Clearly then, any proposal to alter the terms of reference will be politically sensitive and may give an appearance of government attempting to obtain an outcome more favourable to itself. Whatever the term "public interest" means in section 5 of the Act, it cannot be equated with the interest of any political party.

Whether a lockdown ought to have been imposed appears to have become a far more controversial point than it was back in 2020. Other nations had imposed "lockdowns" in varying degrees to try to limit the spread of what was a dangerous virus (and maybe still is for some people). Medical advice was generally in favour of a lockdown in the UK but the final decision was for government. Furthermore, in early 2020, there were no vaccines available.

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