We are today seeking urgent clarification from the Government that it is not planning to fatally undermine the official Covid Inquiry. According to an article published by Bloomberg, the Government is trying to block essential information from being passed to the Inquiry.
After receiving legal advice that Ministers could face extensive claims for damages from families who lost loved ones during the pandemic, the Government has reportedly begun directing officials to use a traffic-light system that would mark as ‘red’ politically-sensitive or embarrassing documents, which they will seek to withhold.
The Inquiry is meant to provide answers for the UK public and for the many thousands of people who lost loved ones during the pandemic. It will report on the quality of decision-making by the Government, and the impact of those decisions, in particular on vulnerable groups such as the elderly. It should be an opportunity for the Government to examine its actions and reflect on the failings in its response to ensure they are not repeated.
The Government’s reported plan would represent a shocking attack on transparency and accountability, and a betrayal of the victims of the pandemic, denying families the answers they clearly deserve.
It would also, we believe, be unlawful and open to challenge by way of judicial review.
The basis in law for the Covid Inquiry is the Inquiries Act 2005. The Act gives the Government the power to restrict public access to certain highly-sensitive documents, but it doesn’t allow them to disappear documents just because they relate to discussions of policy, or might expose the Government to criticism or political embarrassment.
We’ve written to the Cabinet Office, asking them to confirm whether or not the Bloomberg report is accurate. They have until 25 July to clarify the following:
1) The steps they’re taking to prepare for the Inquiry
2) Whether there are any types of documents that the Government plans not to disclose to the Inquiry
3) Whether there are any documents that the Government will ask the Inquiry to withhold from the public
4) The legal basis for their decisions to restrict access to any relevant documents.
The Government’s failings, particularly during the early part of the pandemic, are well-known. From their unlawful PPE procurement to their ineffective and costly Test and Trace system, and the decisions to delay lockdowns and discharge elderly and vulnerable people from hospitals into care homes without testing for Covid.
The whole, unvarnished truth must come out. We won’t hesitate to act if the Government fails to reassure us that the Covid Inquiry will have unfettered access to any and all documents.
Read our letter to the Cabinet Office in full here.
We will keep you updated with the Government’s response.
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