Module 1 of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry has been officially opened by its chair, Baroness Heather Hallett.

The first of three modules is due to examine the resilience and preparedness of the UK for the coronavirus pandemic. The module’s timetable has been published, with preliminary hearings due to take place in September 2022 and public hearings commencing in spring 2023.

Module 1 will examine:

  • The basic characteristics and epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 and Covid 19;
  • Government structures and specialist bodies concerned with risk management and civil emergency planning;
  • The planning for a pandemic including forecasting, learning from past simulation exercises, emergency plans that were in place and international comparisons;
  • Public health services including structure, readiness and preparation, capacity, resources and any impact of Brexit;
  • Economic planning by Government bodies; and
  • Planning for future pandemics including the risks of new variants, other viruses and other zoonotic diseases.

Individuals, bodies and organisations with an interest in the above or who played a role in matters relating to the above should therefore urgently consider seeking Core Participant status in Module 1.

Applications for Core Participant status in Module 1 of the Inquiry close on 16 August 2022. Time is thus short for those who wish to participate in the first part of the inquiry and who believe that they may qualify for core participant status (as explained below).

When launching the inquiry and opening Module 1, Baroness Hallett re-emphasised that inequalities will be at the forefront of the Inquiry’s investigations.

Core participant status

Core participants will have a formal role in the Inquiry, with the right to make opening and closing statements, suggest lines of questioning to be pursued by Counsel, and apply to ask questions of witnesses during a hearing. They will also receive electronic disclosure of relevant evidence.

There will be separate application processes to obtain Core Participant status in each module. Individuals and organisations who wish to be designated as Core Participants in more than one module will therefore need to apply for each one individually. Baroness Hallett explained the rationale behind this approach as enabling her to ensure that each module is manageable and is conducted as efficiently as possible, and stated that few if any people or organisations will be Core Participants throughout the whole Inquiry. The Chair has also encouraged applicants to group together where similar interests are shared in order to manage the number of individuals and organisations who seek Core Participant status.

How applications will be determined

Applications for Core Participant status will be determined in line with Rule 5(2) of the Inquiry Rules 2006. The Chair will consider whether the applicant:

  • played or may have played a direct and significant role in relation to the matters to which the inquiry relates;
  • has a significant interest in an important aspect of the matters to which the inquiry relates; or
  • may be subject to explicit or significant criticism during the inquiry proceedings or in the report, or in any interim report.

In relation to the first point, the Chair will consider how the application relates to the matters being investigated in each module.

The Chair is also able to take into account any other relevant matters. The Chair ultimately has discretion as to granting Core Participant status – if an individual or organisation meets the criteria above, Baroness Hallett is nonetheless not bound to designate them as a Core Participant.

How to apply

Those wishing to become Core Participants should make (or should have made on their behalf by legal representatives) a written application to the Solicitor to the Inquiry, specifying how they meet the criteria for Core Participant status. Applications made otherwise than in writing to the Solicitor will be considered only in exceptional circumstances.

The applicant should ensure they do the following in their application:

  • confirm that they consent to being designated as a Core Participant;
  • indicate which module(s) or part(s) of module(s) to which they are applying;
  • indicate which of the matters in Rule 5(2) apply to their application;
  • (if the applicant is an individual person or organisation), indicate what steps have been taken to explore the possibility of grouping together with other people/organisations and the outcome of those steps;
  • confirm whether the applicant will be legally represented, with details of the lawyer(s) concerned if so.

Applications are limited to a maximum of 4 sides of A4 paper.

The Inquiry will set timeframes for Core Participant applications to each module or part(s) of a module. If an application is submitted outside the timescales established by the Inquiry, it will not be considered without an acceptable explanation as to why it was not submitted at the correct time.

Applications will be determined either on paper or following submissions at a preliminary oral hearing, dependent on the Chair’s discretion.

Detailed guidance about legal representation at the inquiry will be provided to those who are ultimately designated as Core Participants. Core Participants should, where appropriate, also make applications for an award of legal expenses once they have been designated as Core Participants.

The Chair may also invite individuals or organisations to become Core Participants at any stage during the Inquiry, if she considers it appropriate to do so.

Who may wish to seek Core Participant status 

It has been emphasised by the Chair and the Inquiry that applications from groups of individuals and organisations with similar interests are encouraged. The Chair’s view is that the designation of Core Participant status to groups representing the interest of more than one person will assist the “fair and efficient running” of the Inquiry.

The Inquiry is also undertaking a “Listening Project” which will gather information from different groups of people who have been affected by the pandemic. Baroness Hallett described this project as constituting a less formal setting for people to share their experiences, in order for the Inquiry to understand more about the effects of the pandemic and the experiences of the bereaved. It is not necessary to apply for or to obtain Core Participant status in order to share experiences through the Listening Project. However, taking part in the Listening Project will not afford participants the same rights as participation in the Inquiry as a Core Participant