What is a public inquiry?
A statutory public inquiry is usually set up and funded by government but conducted by an independent body to investigate matters of public concern, report on its findings and make recommendations for improvements in the future. Public inquiries do not have the powers to investigate individual cases nor to determine any criminal or civil liability. Nor can they award compensation. Those would be matters for the courts.
Public inquiries can only investigate the areas set out in their Terms of Reference, before publishing their findings. Final reports are passed to the Minister who established the Inquiry and then laid before parliament. It is for the government to decide whether to accept the Inquiry's recommendations and how to take that forward.
The Scottish COVID-19 Inquiry is one such statutory inquiry. That means it is established under the Inquiries Act 2005. That Act and the Inquiries (Scotland) Rules 2007 contain a range of legal provisions, including provisions about Terms of Reference, and powers to summon witnesses to give evidence on oath and compel production of documents. Together they provide the legal framework which governs the Inquiry.
It is investigating the devolved strategic response to the coronavirus pandemic in Scotland and will present its findings and make recommendations to Scottish Ministers.