Families who lost loved ones in the Covid-19 crisis are preparing a court challenge against the Tory government, which they fear is delaying an inquiry into its handling of the pandemic.
Boris Johnson appointed Baroness Hallett to chair the inquiry in December 2021, and has said it would begin in spring this year. But spring is over and no terms of reference have been published nor setting-up-date specified.
Under the 2005 Inquiries Act, an inquiry “must not begin considering evidence before the setting up date” and once an inquiry is under way it is an offence under the Act to destroy or tamper with evidence.
So the longer the setting up date is delayed, the more evidence it is possible for … someone… to alter or destroy.
That’s the concern of the group Covid-19 bereaved families for justice, who are planning a judicial review into the failure.
Elkan Abrahamson, head of major inquiries at Broudie Jackson Canter, who is representing the group, said taking legal action is the “last thing” families want but they may be left with no choice. He said: “In the vast majority of inquiries a setting-up date is given within days or weeks of the chair being appointed, so this delay of over six months is both unprecedented and totally inexplicable.
“The consequences are extremely serious, as it only becomes a criminal offence to destroy or tamper with evidence after the inquiry’s start date. By failing to give one, the Prime Minister is opening the door to key evidence being destroyed.”
Not only that, but a delay like this means it will take longer, and be more difficult, to learn lessons from the pandemic and the government’s failures in handling it.
Perhaps most to the point, though, is this: Boris Johnson has claimed that he needs to stay on as prime minister to “get on” with tackling the issues that matter most to people – but instead he is delaying a vital inquiry.
He can’t say it’s because he had to deal with the challenges to his own leadership because he has already told us he considers them to have been nothing more than a time-wasting sideshow; he should have been handling the issues that matter – not diverting time and energy to his own self-preservation.
All the government has been able to say is that the inquiry’s terms of reference will be published shortly. Nothing has been said about the setting-up date.
So, what’s really going on here? And do we need a judicial review to establish what’s really going on at the heart of our government?
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