Scottish Government commits to establish Scotland-only COVID-19 public inquiry and seek views on draft aims and principles

On 24 August 2021 the First Minister of Scotland committed the Scottish Government to establish a judge-led, Scotland-only, independent public inquiry on COVID-19 by the end of this year. This marks a significant development in the Scottish Government’s position on COVID-19 inquiry matters. Previously, the First Minister had “broadly welcomed” the UK Prime Minister’s commitment to hold a UK-wide, or “four nations” inquiry, although she expected that to begin before the end of 2021 rather than spring 2022 as initially proposed by the Prime Minister.  

The Lord Advocate has now started discussions with the Lord President, as head of the Scottish judiciary, on appointing a judge to lead the inquiry. It will be set up under the Inquiries Act 2005, meaning that it will have the power to compel witnesses to give evidence. The inquiry will not, however, determine any matter of civil liability nor criminal culpability with regard to COVID-19. Rather, its purposes are to establish the relevant facts, to assess explanations for decisions taken and to consider if and how different outcomes could have been achieved, with a view to learning lessons and making recommendations for the future.

The Scottish Government is seeking views, by 30 September 2021, on draft aims and principles in order to help shape the inquiry’s formal terms of reference. The draft aims are:

  • to scrutinise decisions taken in the course of the pandemic so far,
  • to learn lessons for future pandemics,
  • to examine the actions taken in response to the pandemic, and
  • to consider, in particular, the four harms of the pandemic in relation to Scotland:
    • direct health impacts of COVID-19, including cases and deaths in care homes,
    • other health impacts,
    • societal impacts, including education, and
    • economic impacts

The draft principles are that the inquiry should:

  • take a person-centred, human rights based approach to ensure that every person and organisation taking part can meaningfully participate, be treated fairly and be empowered to take part.
  • be outcome-focused, identifying lessons throughout its work with timely reporting, including recommendations.

In the UK-wide context, the Scottish Government indicates that “While all relevant matters will be in scope, consideration will be given to how duplication of investigations between the Scottish and UK-wide inquiries can be avoided.”

Further detail is available on the Scottish Government’s webpage here. Views are requested to the email address COVID-19publicinquirysetupteam@gov.scot.

We would expect the inquiry’s terms of reference to be settled and published some time during Q4 this year. In the meantime, if you would like to discuss these matters further with please feel free to email zoe.mcdonnell@blmlaw.com.


Zoe McDonnell, Partner and Andrew Gilmour, Partner, BLM

zoe.mcdonnell@blmlaw.com and andrew.gilmour@blmlaw.com

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