Letter to inquiry Chair
Scottish Ministers sent the following letter to the chair of the public inquiry on 14 December 2021:
Dear Lady Poole
Thank you for agreeing to take on the role of chair of the Scottish public inquiry into the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am confident that you will approach the inquiry in such manner as to provide appropriate answers for those who have suffered through this pandemic, and to learn lessons for the future.
Thank you too for the discussions the First Minister and I have been able to have with you in preparation for the role. Those discussions have focused significantly on the Terms of Reference for the inquiry, which I attach.
I am pleased to be appointing an independent chair with such direct and robust knowledge of, and expertise in, human rights and equalities. This includes such expertise whilst practising as an advocate at the Scottish bar including acting as one of the panel of counsel for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, leadership experience as a judge at the Upper Tribunal of the United Kingdom, and your publications on human rights. With that in mind, I know you are conscious of the various ways in which human rights considerations may be relevant to the inquiry’s work. This is reflected in the terms of reference, which make particular reference to Convention rights, including the right not to be discriminated against.
As you know, the matters which the inquiry will address are of fundamental public importance. Scottish Ministers are acutely aware, in establishing the inquiry, that the pandemic has touched the lives of almost everyone in Scotland and has had differing impacts on different groups in society, as well as entrenching inequality for those experiencing it. I have confidence that you will pursue the inquiry in a way that is inclusive and fair.
We are in agreement about the importance of reporting as quickly as is practicable, to ensure that lessons are available as soon as possible. Scottish Ministers also recognise that people have questions about the handling of the pandemic and seek answers to those questions. We have struck a balance between these important aspirations in drawing up the terms of reference, and I know you are aware of the relevance of this balance in your conduct of the inquiry.
For that reason, I am glad that the first period of the inquiry’s work will include reflection on the terms of reference, and I would welcome a discussion about any adjustments that you consider should be made after that. During that period, we expect to learn the terms of reference of the UK COVID-19 inquiry and of any other inquiries that may be set up by other devolved administrations, and you will want to consider any areas of overlap once those terms of reference are known. This period could also allow for adjustments to address any new significant issues arising in relation to the pandemic in the forthcoming months, if you as Chair agree to their inclusion.
Stakeholders’ feedback has been fundamental in our approach to establishing the inquiry. As you know, public engagement on a draft COVID-19 Inquiry Establishment Aims and Principles paper took place during August and September. We have continued to listen to those affected by COVID-19 and have engaged regularly over recent months with family groups, including those who have been bereaved. Their experiences, and those of other groups, have helped shape the Terms of Reference and will continue to be critical during the inquiry itself. An analysis report of the engagement will be published at the same time as the Terms of Reference. I am aware that specific issues affecting seldom heard groups may have come up less frequently in the public engagement process. It remains important that these voices can be heard by the inquiry. Your understanding of equality and human rights will help the inquiry to examine these issues where appropriate.
The analysis report is a summary and many other points have been made to us through this engagement. This includes points relating to operational matters for the chair. Officials can make this information available to you and your team as the inquiry begins its work.
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