9 May 2020

With bereaved families rightly questioning whether their loved one was provided adequate safety equipment to carry out their essential work, it is clear that the actions and inactions of the state must face robust scrutiny. In the absence of a public inquiry inquests could play a vital role in identifying systemic failings in the protection of frontline workers and those in state care and whether their deaths could and should have been prevented.

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST

There has been considerable disquiet about recent guidance from the Chief Coroner, saying that inquests would not be a satisfactory means of deciding whether adequate policies and arrangements were in place for provision of PPE to healthcare workers. Members of the INQUEST Lawyers Group are considering the guidance and a response to it.

Bereaved families have legitimate questions about whether the deaths of their relatives could have been prevented had, for example, sufficient/adequate PPE been available and/or effective ‘test, isolate and trace’ been in place. 

Covid-19 inquests will often need to comply with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The guidance fails to adequately address what coroners need to bear in mind when setting the scope of such inquests. 

Until a public inquiry is called, bereaved families look to ­coroners to open investigations so evidence can be preserved.

INQUEST Director Deborah Coles told the Guardian“In the absence of a public inquiry inquests will play a vital role in identifying systemic failings in the protection of frontline workers. This scrutiny is key to learning and holding people to account in order to prevent future deaths.”

However the wide ranging issues needing scrutiny may well warrant a public inquiry so that the government’s handling of this pandemic and the shocking death rate can be properly examined. Getting to the truth behind these deaths is fundamental to ensuring meaning change is implemented and future deaths are prevented. 

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For more information on INQUEST's response to COVID-19 and additional resources, visit this webpage.