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UK government faces legal action as public inquiry into COVID-19 handling begins

Britain is holding a public inquiry into the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the government is already seeking legal action against it even before it has started hearing evidence.

Here are the key facts about the inquiry.

Why is there an inquiry?

The inquiry was ordered by the government when Boris Johnson was prime minister in 2021, to look at how the COVID-19 pandemic was handled in Britain, and what mistakes were made.

However, the government also highlighted a rapid rollout of vaccines which helped the country emerge from lockdown for good in early 2022.

What is the inquiry looking at?

Under its terms of reference the inquiry will “examine, consider and report on preparations and the response to the pandemic in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.”

The inquiry was formally set up in June 2022. It has been holding preliminary hearings, which are to discuss how the hearings will run rather than to discuss evidence.

The inquiry will start to hear evidence for the first module, on resilience and preparedness, on June 13. The hearings will last for six weeks.

While a preliminary hearing on Tuesday is to discuss Module 2, which covers UK decision making and political governance and will cover how Johnson handled the pandemic, evidential hearings in this module aren’t due to start until October 2023.

The government last week said it is seeking a legal challenge against the inquiry, the culmination of a dispute over what messages the inquiry has access to.

The inquiry had asked for WhatsApp messages and other documents for its examination of government decision-making during the pandemic.

But the government said that some of the messages and other records the inquiry had requested were unambiguously irrelevant.

What aims does the inquiry have?

Under its terms of reference, the inquiry aims:

– to provide a factual account of the COVID-19 response

It does not have the power to bring criminal or civil charges against individuals or bodies, and cannot compel the government to take on its recommendations.

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