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10 May 22 Back to Listing

Covid-19 Inquiry - What it means to be a Core Participant and who is likely to be designated as such

Categories: Covid-19 Public Inquiry Hub Public Inquiries

The public consultation on the COVID-19 Inquiry’s Terms of Reference is complete and Baroness Hallett hopes to make her final recommendations on the UK Covid-19 Inquiry’s Terms of Reference to the Prime Minister in May.  Once the Terms of Reference are set, considering the designation of individuals, groups and organisations as core participants is likely to be towards the top of the Inquiry’s task list.  So what does it mean to be a core participant and who is likely to be designated as such?

A core participant is any person designated as such by the Chair of an Inquiry under rule 5 of the Inquiry Rules 2006.  Whilst it is not necessary to have core participant status in order for a person who has been affected by the issues falling within the Terms of Reference to engage with an Inquiry (a person does not need to be a core participant in order to provide evidence to the Inquiry and access to information is not restricted to core participants – it is now commonplace for public inquiries to publish written and oral evidence and documents referred to in oral evidence on their website), being a core participant enables meaningful participation in a number of tangible ways.  Core participants will generally:

  1. be provided with disclosure of evidence which the Chair considers to be relevant to the Terms of Reference;
  2. be able to make opening and closing statements at certain hearings;
  3. be able to suggest lines of questioning to be pursued by Counsel to the Inquiry;
  4. be able to apply to the Chair to ask questions of witnesses during the hearings;
  5. be permitted to have input in relation to composition of any expert groups and to suggest questions to be asked of the experts; and
  6. be provided, prior to publication, with a copy of the report (or any interim report) which is to be published.

The Chair may designate a person as a core participant at any time during the course of the inquiry, provided that person consents to being so designated.  This may be in response to an application from a would-be core participant or where the Chair invites a person to become a core participant and they accept this invitation.  Either way, under rule 5 the Chair must consider the following when deciding on core participant designation:

               Whether -

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

One of the big challenges for the COVID-19 Inquiry will be limiting the number of core participants so that the Inquiry does not become too unwieldly and cost inefficient (there are, of course, disclosure and other costs to the inquiry for each core participant and the Chair must have regard to the need to avoid any unnecessary cost under section 17(3) of the Inquiries Act 2005).

It would be unfeasible to grant core participant status to every individual who has been bereaved or suffered loss or hardship as a result of the pandemic.  The same is true of affected key workers and businesses.  It will be important therefore for those who wish their voices to be heard to give early consideration to joining a common interest group or contacting their professional organisation or trade association to explore whether they will be making an application for core participant status on behalf of their members at the appropriate time.  

Members of 5 Essex Court have unique insight into Public Inquiries, having appeared in most of the significant Inquiries of the last twenty years. . Whether you want to ask a question about the Covid-19 Inquiry or you are actively seeking counsel, please feel free to get in touch by emailing clerks@5essexcourt.co.uk or call us on 020 7410 2000.

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