Covid inquiry will not include panel in bid to speed up process

A woman leaves a message on the National Covid Memorial Wall in central London - Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP
A woman leaves a message on the National Covid Memorial Wall in central London - Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP

The Covid-19 Inquiry will not include a panel, Rishi Sunak has ruled in an effort to cut bureaucracy and speed up the process.

In a written statement to Parliament, the Prime Minister said the investigation into the response to the pandemic would be “most efficient and swift” if its chairman sits without a panel.

Concerns have been raised over how long the inquiry may take, with some estimates that it could last for up to seven years. The first public hearings are due to begin in June.

Baroness Heather Hallett was named as inquiry chairman by Boris Johnson in 2021. He said at the time that additional panel members would be appointed to make sure the inquiry had access to the “full range of expertise needed to complete its important work”.

But Mr Sunak said he was “conscious of the recent criticism over the length of time that the public inquiry may take to reach its conclusions”.

He wrote: “Baroness Hallett has emphasised that she is keen to start hearing evidence as quickly as possible and to make timely recommendations.

“To assist with this, and following careful consideration and consultation with Baroness Hallett, I have decided the inquiry will be most efficient and swift if Baroness Hallett sits without a panel.”

The Prime Minister said Baroness Hallett, a former Court of Appeal judge, would be assisted by “scientific, economic and other experts” and hear from “those most affected by the pandemic, including those who have tragically lost their loved ones”.

“She is putting in place mechanisms to enable the inquiry to gather the breadth of evidence and experiences needed to deliver its work effectively and efficiently, with the findings and recommendations published as soon as practicable,” he wrote.

“I therefore believe that the inquiry will have access to a range of expertise which negates the need for a panel. For these reasons, and for those of pace, I have decided not to pursue a panel to sit alongside Baroness Hallett.

“It is in the public interest that the inquiry is thorough, rigorous and comprehensive, but also delivers its report without excessive delay.”

The first part of the Covid-19 Inquiry, which its legal team has requested be delayed from May until June, will look at the UK’s preparedness and resilience for a pandemic, with thousands of pages of government evidence to be sifted through as part of the process.

Other modules will examine decisions taken by Mr Johnson, then the prime minister, and the Cabinet, as well as the impact of Covid on healthcare systems.