No-one wants top Covid inquiry jobs, lawyer warns

time:2023-06-09 06:35:21source:NBC News author:Press center2

No-one will want to replace the chairperson and legal counsels who quit Scotland's Covid inquiry, a lawyer has warned.

Prof Peter Watson, who represents some affected families, has said the review will be delayed and is "going nowhere".

The chairperson, Lady Poole, quit last week following the resignation of the lead counsel and three junior counsels.

An inquiry spokesman said it was "continuing its important work" despite the staffing problems.

Lady Poole was said to be leaving for personal reasons. She will continue in the post during a notice period of up to three months.

No explanation has been given for the departure of lead counsel Douglas Ross KC and three of his staff.

Asked about the progress of the inquiry, Prof Watson told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "It's going nowhere."

He added: "It is extraordinary, to say the least, for people such as counsel to the inquiry and others to resign their post and leave.

"Most lawyers would find ways to work round any perceived difficulties but for lawyers to say they will no longer accept instructions – quite extraordinary."

The lawyer warned the lead counsel would be difficult to replace because they were "particularly eminent - at the top of their particular branch of the law".

Prof Watson said: "When you lose somebody like Douglas Ross, you're asking another eminent [KC] to come forward, give up two or three years of their practice to do nothing else but this inquiry and when they finish it, I mean, they won't have any practice left."

Asked who would want to replace the lead counsel, Mr Watson replied: "In my vote no-one. It's a hospital pass."

He explained that a replacement judge would also be "difficult to get".

"Whatever happens, even in a best-case scenario, delay is inevitable," the lawyer said.

He added: "Some explanation will be necessary.

"Those I represent and I think the wider body of those affected by this pandemic are disappointed and bewildered at the current situation."

Lady Poole was appointed as chairperson in December 2021, but the review is yet to hold a session.

It will look at the Scottish government's actions throughout the pandemic, including lockdown measures, care home infections and the vaccine programme.

Deputy First Minister and Covid-19 Secretary John Swinney told the programme he was "actively involved" in recruiting a new chairperson and was holding talks with the Lord President.

"I want to progress to a conclusion on that as quickly as I possibly can do," he said.

He said further staffing arrangements were the legal responsibility of the inquiry, not ministers.

The Covid inquiry is one of five under way in Scotland, along with reviews into hospitals, trams, child abuse and the death of Sheku Bayoh.

The trams probe alone will cost more than £13m.

Mr Swinney rejected any suggestions that public inquiries were being used as a means of "kicking of issues down the track".

"I think there's a fine balance to be struck," he said.

"There are limits to the number that can be sustained at any one time. And I think that's a point that parliament has to be mindful of."

Lady Poole has offered to assist her successor at the inquiry while serving her notice period.

A spokesperson for the inquiry said: "The Scottish Covid-19 inquiry began its important work on behalf of the public earlier this year and is continuing that work pending the appointment of a new chair.

"The independent inquiry's focus has been on gathering evidence before holding oral hearings. The inquiry commissioned academic reports on aspects of the devolved strategic response to the pandemic, which were published on its website in June, when its terms of reference were finalised.

"In addition, the inquiry has issued 'do not destroy' letters to organisations and individuals, is reviewing core participant status applications, and has made orders under its statutory powers to obtain relevant information from the Scottish Government."

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