Nicola Sturgeon is under mounting pressure to launch a public inquiry into her government’s handling of the pandemic after experts said it could run alongside a UK-wide inquiry.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week an independent inquiry into his government’s response to Covid-19 would begin in spring 2022.
However, Sturgeon has yet to launch a separate Scottish probe, despite a parliamentary vote for an inquiry and a commitment in the SNP’s election manifesto.
The Scottish Government has now told the Post no decision will be made until the extent of the UK probe is known.
Alan Wightman of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, who speaks for relatives of those who died in care homes, said: “The correct model would be for each home nation to run its own inquiry into devolved matters. These could run simultaneously. They would, at some point, feed into one UK-wide inquiry covering reserved matters, such as border control, furlough support, central purchasing contracts, and communications, advice and guidance from the UK Government to devolved governments.”
Some 10,104 deaths have been linked to Covid in Scotland, including 3,311 in care homes.
MSPs voted in November for an immediate public inquiry after we revealed how Covid-positive hospital patients were moved to care homes during the first wave. Thousands of untested patients were also transferred.
The SNP manifesto said: “We will commission a statutory, person-centred and human-rights-based public inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic in Scotland…we will begin to take the necessary steps to establish the public inquiry as soon as possible after the election.”
On March 22 organisations representing some of the nation’s most vulnerable Scots called for an immediate public inquiry.
The group, led by Amnesty International and including Age Scotland, said lessons must be learned sooner rather than later.
Amnesty International’s Naomi McAuliffe said: “Boris Johnson’s public inquiry should not delay Scotland’s inquiry. Nicola Sturgeon has already pledged to begin the process this year and we look toward to an announcement soon with a precise timeline.”
Age Scotland chief executive Brian Sloan said: “A Scottish inquiry should take place irrespective of the timing of a UK inquiry.”
Public inquiry experts said there was no legal barrier to having separate UK and Scottish inquiries running simultaneously.
Solicitor Richard Scorer, a specialist in public inquiries at Slater and Gordon, said: “It is possible for the First Minister to order her own inquiry and for that to be operating at the same time as a UK inquiry. There is every prospect that Scotland could do it more quickly.
“If you’re going to have proper process of accountability you need the inquiry in Scotland to focus on the decision-making process that exists in Scotland.”
Former Scotland Office head Alun Evans said: “There is no reason why the Scottish inquiry could not go ahead in parallel with the UK-wide one. When I was secretary to the UK-wide Foot-and-Mouth Disease Inquiry there was a parallel inquiry in Scotland, that only focused on the Scottish dimension. That reported in advance of the UK-wide inquiry.”
Peter Riddell, a member of the Gibson inquiry into the torture of terror suspects, said: “I don’t see why Scotland can’t have an inquiry into Scotland-specific aspects of Covid, such as timing of imposition of lockdowns, testing and tracing, and particularly care homes policy. These are matters where the Scottish Government has taken its own decisions.”
The Scottish Government said: “The question now is the extent to which we can co-operate across the UK and what aspects will be UK-wide, and what aspects will be Scotland-wide. The commitment has already been there for Scotland and it’s the UK Government who are matching that commitment.”
“We are also clear that we expect it to begin its work by the end of this year. If the UK Government does not take this forward swiftly, we will determine if a distinct Scottish inquiry is required to meet the needs of families who have been impacted by the pandemic.”
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