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Covid-19 Update

Volume 705: debated on Wednesday 15 December 2021

I am announcing today the appointment of the right hon. Baroness Heather Hallett DBE as chair of the forthcoming public inquiry into the covid-19 pandemic, which is set to begin its work in spring 2022. The inquiry will be established under the 2005 Inquiries Act, with full powers, including the power to compel the production of documents and to summon witnesses to give evidence on oath. The inquiry will be held in public. In consultation with Baroness Hallett, I intend to appoint additional panel members in the new year in order that the inquiry has access to the full range of expertise needed to complete its important work.

Baroness Hallett retired from the Court of Appeal in 2019 and was made a crossbench life peer. She has conducted a range of high-profile and complex inquests, inquiries and reviews, including acting as coroner for the inquests into the deaths of the 52 victims of the 7 July 2005 London bombings; as chair of the Iraq Fatalities Investigations; and as chair of the 2014 Hallett Review of the administrative scheme to deal with “on the runs” in Northern Ireland. Baroness Hallett’s appointment to this role follows a recommendation made by the Lord Chief Justice.

Baroness Hallett is currently acting as coroner in the inquest into the death of Dawn Sturgess, who died in July 2018 following exposure to the nerve agent Novichok. The Home Secretary announced on 18 November that a public inquiry would be established into these matters, and the inquest adjourned, in order to permit all relevant evidence to be heard. A new chair for that inquiry will be appointed early in the new year.

The public inquiry into covid-19 will play a key role in examining the UK’s pandemic response and ensuring that we learn the right lessons for the future. In doing so, it must ensure that those most affected by the pandemic—including those who have sadly lost loved ones—can play their proper role in the process. I will now consult Baroness Hallett and ministers in the devolved Administrations on the terms of reference for the inquiry and will publish these in draft in the new year. Baroness Hallett has agreed to then take forward a process of public engagement and consultation—including with bereaved families and other affected groups—before the terms of reference are finalised. I will make a further statement when it is time for that process to begin.