What is a Public Inquiry?

Public inquiries are conducted by independent bodies set up to look into matters of public concern. The Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry is investigating the strategic response to the Covid-19 pandemic in devolved areas in Scotland.

Inquiries investigate areas set out in their terms of reference, and publish their findings. The Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry has also been asked to make recommendations when it reports. Its recommendations will aim to ensure that Scotland is better prepared for any future pandemics.

Completed reports are passed to the Scottish Government Minister who set up the inquiry. The Minister then lays them before the Scottish Parliament. It is then for the Government and the Scottish Parliament to take forward the inquiry’s recommendations.

Inquiries do not decide civil or criminal liability. They do not award compensation. The responsibility for that lies with courts or tribunals. Instead, inquiries investigate the matters entrusted to them in an inquisitorial way. They are entitled to make findings where wrong decisions were made, where they were inadequate or fell short, and say who is accountable. The Chair decides the procedure to apply to the inquiry, in accordance with fairness and the need to avoid unnecessary cost. This flexibility about procedure enables inquiries to choose the most appropriate way of fulfilling their terms of reference.

The Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry is a 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.