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Boris Johnson Confirms 7/7 Coroner Baroness Hallett Will Lead Covid-19 Public Inquiry

Baroness Hallett will chair the public inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic (UK Parliament)

3 min read

The prime minister has announced the former appeals court judge Baroness Hallett will chair the public inquiry into the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The crossbench peer, who has handled a number of high-profile investigations in recent years, will take up her role in the New Year.

Hallett has previously acted as coroner for the inquests into the deaths of the 52 victims of the 7/7 London bombings, as chair of the Iraq Fatalities Investigations, and headed a review into those suspected of crimes during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The 71-year-old is currently leading the inquest into the death of Dawn Sturgess, who died in July 2018 following exposure to the nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury, and the government say they will now find a new chair for that.

The Covid-19 inquiry, which will be established under the Inquiries Act 2005, will have the power to compel the production of documents and to summon witnesses to give evidence on oath.

Boris Johnson has previously said it will commence in Spring 2022, and he will now consult Baroness Hallett and ministers from the devolved administrations on the terms of reference, which will be published in draft in the new year. Additional panel members will also be appointed then.

The government said the inquiry will help ensure that “we learn the right lessons for the future”, and confirmed those most affected by the pandemic must "have an opportunity to play their proper role in the process”.

Johnson said of Baroness Hallett: “She brings a wealth of experience to the role and I know shares my determination that the inquiry examines in a forensic and thoroughgoing way the government’s response to the pandemic.”

Hallett said: “The pandemic has affected us all, some much worse than others. I am acutely conscious of the suffering it has caused to so many.

“In the new year I shall be seeking views from those who have lost loved ones and all other affected groups about the Inquiry’s terms of reference.

"I want to assure the British public that, once the terms of reference are finalised, I shall do my utmost to ensure the inquiry answers as many questions as possible about the UK’s response to the pandemic so that we can all learn lessons for the future.”

Matt Fowler, co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said the announcement of a chair for the public inquiry was a “positive step” in the process to learn from the tragedies of the pandemic, but criticised it for coming “far too late”.

“We've been calling for an inquiry since the end of the first wave and we will never know how many lives could have been saved had the Government had a rapid review phase in summer 2020,” he added.

“With the Omicron variant upon us, the inquiry really cannot come soon enough."

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