Judge Lady Poole appointed to chair Scotland’s Covid-19 public inquiry

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The Scottish Government has appointed a senior judge to chair the public inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney announced that Lady Poole, a senator of the College of Justice of Scotland, is to lead the work – insisting that she is “highly qualified for the demanding task put in front of her”.

Speaking about the new inquiry chair, Mr Swinney said: “I believe she will bring pace and energy to the work of the inquiry, as well as a cool, calm head, and that she will approach experiences of the pandemic sensitively and sympathetically.”

Work on the inquiry will start “as early in the New Year as we can arrange”, Mr Swinney told MSPs at Holyrood.

The commitment came as he insisted the emergence of the new Omicron variant of the virus should not delay the public inquiry.

Mr Swinney, also Scotland’s Covid-19 Recovery Secretary, said: “The emergence of the Omicron variant is a stark reminder to us all that this pandemic continues to evolve and challenge us.

“But that does not mean we can delay our efforts to learn from the past. Indeed it underlines the importance and urgency of learning lessons from what has gone before.”

The public inquiry will cover the three years from January 1 2020 to December 31 2022 – although it will look at pandemic planning work that was  carried out before this period.

It is being set up to “provide scrutiny and answers to the questions people have about how this pandemic has been handled in Scotland”, Mr Swinney said.

But he added: “Equally it is to learn lessons so we can be as ready as possible to respond to future pandemics.”

Lady Poole will now begin the process of appointing staff, so that the inquiry can start hearing evidence.

Mr Swinney stressed, however, that the Scottish Government was “committed to working with the UK Government to develop the approach to the UK-wide inquiry” it will hold.

Lady Poole, as the chair of the Scottish public inquiry, will be expected to to coordinate with the chair of the UK-wide inquiry. She said she was “honoured” to have been given the task of chairing the inquiry, adding: “We have all been affected by this pandemic. There has been a major impact on every aspect of all our lives.

“The death of so many as a result of Covid-19 is a tragedy, and others have suffered in many different ways.

“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.”

She said she would give “considerable thought” about how best to conduct the inquiry, adding that her immediate focus would be “on getting the right people in place to support me” and establishing the necessary systems and  processes for the inquiry to work efficiently.

She said: “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.”

Meanwhile a dedicated website will be set up for the inquiry, providing information and  updates as its work progresses.

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