Who is the COVID Inquiry's 'formidable' KC Hugo Keith?

Keith, 56, who has questioned Rishi Sunak at the COVID inquiry, has had numerous high-profile clients, ranging from royalty to Premier League football clubs.

Hugo Keith Covid inquiry - 11/12/2023
Hugo Keith KC had to ask Rishi Sunak to 'slow down' and be 'more concise' multiple times. (Covid-19 inquiry)

The lawyer leading the public COVID inquiry butted heads with Rishi Sunak on more than one occasion as he questioned him at today's hearing in London.

Hugo Keith KC had to intervene on more than one occasion to keep him on course, telling him: “The clock is ticking, I’m going to ask you to try to just be a little bit more concise, if you wouldn’t mind prime minister.”

He also urged the PM to "slow down" for the sake of the stenographer taking notes. Some exchanges between the pair became tetchy, including when Sunak attempted to answer one of Keith's questions with a question of his own.

The KC had asked why the scheme hadn't been raised in advance with "anyone else outside No 10", to which Sunak responded: “The first thing to say, why do Eat Out to Help Out at all?”. Refusing to let him derail his line of questioning, Keith said: “No, no, no, please. There is a method to my madness."

Pulling up the prime minister again for referring to Matt Hancock's remark "there has been undue focus on this one item" – referring to the restaurant discount scheme – Keith sternly asked, "excuse me?", adding: "You're suggesting that he said this isn't a matter of some importance? Matters as to whether they are important to this inquiry are for this inquiry."

Keith has been a consistent, central figure during the inquiry, with today's exchanges the latest examples of how he has repeatedly held to account some of the most senior figures in the UK's pandemic response. Here, Yahoo News UK takes a look at the man questioning Sunak at the COVID Inquiry:

A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Covid-19 Inquiry shows Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak giving evidence at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, in west London, on December 11, 2023. Sunak faced questions Monday over whether his
Rishi Sunak faced difficult questions about missing WhatsApp messages and the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. (Getty Images)

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Who is Hugo Keith KC?

Keith, 56, began his career as a barrister in 1989 before becoming a member of the King’s Counsel – known as ‘taking the silk’ – in 2009.

He studied at the prestigious Magdalen College in Oxford before starting his career.

Keith was already highly regarded, having won the Chambers and Partners award for criminal barrister of the year in 2008.

Chambers, the legal directory that ranks the best law firms and barristers globally, described Keith as an “absolutely top-notch inquiries lawyer” and a “formidable opponent”.

He was named as a ‘Star at the Bar’ in the Chambers 2015 Guide to the UK Bar and, according to his chambers’ website, is “currently top ranked in no less than seven practice areas by the professional directories to the Bar”.

Keith was also a member of the ‘A panel’ of civil Treasury counsel for eight years, and worked for governments on legal matters.

He is currently joint head of Chambers.

Hugo Keith has had several high-profile clients in the past. (PA)
Hugo Keith has had several high-profile clients in the past. (PA)

Who has he represented?

Keith has had several extremely high-profile clients in the past, ranging from royalty to Premier League football clubs.

Perhaps the biggest name was the late Queen, who called on his services during the inquest into the death of Princess Diana.

Princess Anne is also among those previously represented by Keith when she was prosecuted for being in charge of a dog that bit two children in 2002.

Princess Anne arrives at Slough magistrates court with Capt Tim Lawrence, to face a charge relating to her dog biting a member of the public.pic David Sandison 21/11/2002
Hugo Keith represented Princess Anne when she appeared at Slough Magistrates' Court in 2002 over a charge relating to her dog biting a member of the public. (Alamy)

She pleaded guilty and became the first member of the Royal Family to be convicted of a criminal offence - but her English bull terrier Dotty was not ordered to be put down after the barrister successfully argued it was unnecessary.

Other cases the KC has taken on include being leading counsel to the inquests into the London 7/7 bombings and representing News UK chief executive Rebekah Brooks at the Leveson Inquiry.

Keith has also taken on roles in the inquests of Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko and the Westminster Bridge terror attack in 2017.

He also provided legal assistance to Chelsea Football Club over its sale from Roman Abramovich to Todd Boehly.