The Scottish COVID-19 Inquiry is independent, and it is for the Chair to decide on procedure and conduct. By law, the Chair must act with fairness when making decisions about procedure and conduct, and with regard to the need to avoid any unnecessary cost.
The procedure the Inquiry will follow has to take into account the context of the Inquiry. In 2020 it was estimated that there were 5.5 million people living in Scotland. Everybody in Scotland was affected by the strategic response to the pandemic. For the Inquiry to carry out its functions within a reasonable time, we will focus on our key aim of reporting on lessons learned. There needs to be a balance between carrying out a rigorous investigation and reporting so that lessons learned are available as soon as possible.
It is not possible to give details of all of the procedure which will be followed during the lifetime of an Inquiry at its outset. We are embarking on a process of investigation, and as we learn more our procedures are likely to adapt. But we can give the following information.
The Inquiry will be in three phases, which are establishment, investigation and reporting phases.
1. Establishment phase
As the Inquiry is an independent body, it is built from scratch. We have been proceeding at pace with recruiting an Inquiry team, and putting in place premises and essential infrastructure such as the Inquiry website, computer and document management systems. This groundwork takes time, but is an essential first stage to put the Inquiry in a position to carry out its important investigatory functions effectively.
The establishment phase is also a period of planning for the next stage of the Inquiry, the investigatory stage. As part of the planning process, we commissioned introductory research from academics, to assist it with decisions about the shape and direction of its investigation. During the establishment phase, there was also a period of reflection on the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference which are set by Scottish Ministers. When closing that period of reflection on 9 June 2022, the Scottish Ministers announced additional areas of investigation for the Inquiry.
2. Investigation phase
Once the Inquiry is established, it will move to its investigation phase. This is the phase in which we will gather the evidence base for our findings about lessons learned and our recommendations. The investigation phase is likely to involve various components including:
- A Listening Project. Hearing about the lived-experience of those who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic is crucial to the Inquiry. These accounts will make an important contribution to the work of the Inquiry, helping it to build its understanding and to identify lines of investigation, and informing its final recommendations
- Issue by the Inquiry of an interim factual record of the key strategic elements of the handling of the pandemic
- Structured calls for formal evidence and submissions, including any submissions about the interim factual record
- Oral hearings
3. Reporting phase
The Inquiry’s Terms of Reference say that the Inquiry should provide reports to Scottish Ministers as soon as practicable.
The Inquiry will issue a final factual record of the key strategic elements of the handling of the pandemic. It will also prepare reports which identify lessons and implications for the future, and provide recommendations, based on the evidence gathered during its investigation period.