Court of Session judge Lady Poole has been appointed to chair the public inquiry into the handling of the response to COVID-19 in Scotland. 

In a statement to the Parliament, Deputy First Minister John Swinney also published the terms of reference for the inquiry. These cover 12 areas of investigation, each relating to a strategic element of the handling of the pandemic, to identify lessons to be learned and recommendations as soon as practicable. 

These areas include pandemic planning and exercises carried out; the decision to lockdown and apply other restrictions; the delivery of a system of testing, outbreak management and self isolation; the design and delivery of a vaccination strategy; the supply, distribution and use of personal protective equipment; the requirement for shielding and associated assistance programmes; the transfer of residents to or from care or nursing homes, treatment and care of residents, restrictions on visiting, infection prevention and control, and inspections; the provision of healthcare services, including management and support of staff; delivery of end of life care and the use of "do not resuscitate"; welfare assistance programmes; delivery of education and certification; and financial support and guidance given to businesses and the self employed, including in relation to identification of key workers.

The terms of reference were informed by public engagement and are subject to a period of reflection by the chair, who will be able to suggest adjustments, which may include taking the remit of the UK-wide COVID-19 inquiry into account, once that inquiry is established. 

The inquiry will cover the period from 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2022, but will also consider pandemic planning undertaken prior to this.

Lady Poole will now begin the process of appointing staff so the inquiry can begin considering evidence without delay.

Mr Swinney said: "I am grateful to everyone who has shared their views on what the inquiry should look into, in particular bereaved families and those who have lost friends and colleagues. Their input has been key in developing the inquiry’s terms of reference. 

"From my own and the First Minister’s interactions with Lady Poole, I am in no doubt that she has the necessary leadership skills, integrity and deep technical knowledge to undertake this inquiry. Her expertise in administrative and human rights law is exactly in line with our expectations of a human rights-based approach to the inquiry. 

"We are committed to working with the UK Government to develop the approach to the UK-wide inquiry and expect the chair of the Scottish public inquiry to coordinate with the chair of the UK-wide inquiry."

Lady Poole added: "The inquiry will work independently to establish the facts in an open and transparent way in order to determine what lessons can be learned for the future. There is a great deal to be done in a short space of time. I will continue to give considerable thought as to how best to conduct the inquiry to ensure it fully achieves its aims, including a careful and thorough examination of the terms of reference.

"My immediate focus will be on getting the right people in place to support me and establishing the necessary systems, processes and information flows needed to allow the inquiry to function efficiently and deliver as quickly as possible. Work has already begun on this.

"It is too early to be any more specific about how the inquiry will carry out its functions, other than to say that the arrangements for providing both written and oral evidence will be set out in due course once the initial establishment phase is completed. A bespoke website will be created, to provide information and publish updates as the inquiry progresses."

Campaign response

Aamer Anwar, the solicitor acting on behalf of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign group, commented: "Only a robust, independent and transparent public inquiry can restore public confidence and ultimately guarantees must be secured that a crisis like this, can never happen again." The group had had multiple meetings with the Government and the families had welcomed the announcement that an independent public inquiry would be set up by the end of this calendar year.

He added: "At first glance the wide-ranging terms of reference are welcomed, but these are only draft terms and in the coming days and weeks we will make further submissions on critical areas which must deal specifically with the impact of COVID-19".

Groups that had to receive particular attention included  the BAME community; women (including provision of maternity services); people with disabilities and additional support needs; children and young people; mental health services; the chronically ill, both prior to COVID or because of "long COVID"; workers in call centres; all frontline workers; and those in the hospitality and night life sector.

His firm would continue to encourage families, individuals, communities and workers to come forward to speak to them to ensure that their voices were central to the inquiry.