When making his opening statement, Sir Brian Langstaff made it clear that the Preliminary Hearings were for him to hear from the affected and infected community. In particular, he wanted to hear what aspects of the terms of reference people wanted to emphasis and how core participants can help shape the Inquiry’s procedures.
He felt that the numbers who had travelled to attend the opening hearings was a silent testimony to the sheer scale of the tragedy.
Sir Brian told us he is determined that the process of this Inquiry should be governed by key principles.
People at the heart of the Inquiry
- First three months of oral hearings will be taken up from hearing from some of those of have been infected and affected. The infected and affected first. At the end of the oral hearings there will be another opportunity to hear from affected and infected. In that way the affected and infected will be first and last.
- The hearings won’t be like a court room. This is an Inquiry, it is not a court case or a trial. It won’t be run for the benefit of lawyers but for the benefit of those affected. So the room won’t be designed so the view of the public is obscured by ranks of lawyers.
- Sir Brian recognised how difficult it is to live through the infections by being involved with the Inquiry. There will be a counselling service and they will do their best to be sensitive.
The Inquiry will take no longer than it has to
The longer the Inquiry takes the more people won’t live to see the conclusion. It will be as fast as doing a thorough
A fair hearing for all
Everyone is entitled to be heard. He urged everyone to give proper respected to each individuals.
A truly UK wide Inquiry
The Inquiry will move around the country, including coming to Edinburgh. Other locations mentioned included Belfast, Cardiff, and the North of England, probably Leeds.
Independent, open, and transparent
Sir Brian wants the Inquiry to be as open and transparent as it is legally possible for it to be. He asked, rhetorically, how an Inquiry could investigate a cover up any other way He stressed the Inquiry is independent of Government and is willing to seek documents which may not have been seen before. They have already requested documents which it wouldn’t have seen had it not been a statutory inquiry.
Listening and thinking
The Inquiry will listen to what it is told and think about what is being said.
Sir Brian then asked the Counsel to the Inquiry, Jenni Richards QC, to make a statement about the workings of the Inquiry, update on work so far, and to map out the way ahead.
Terms of Reference
The Government made no amendments to the Terms of Reference produced by the Inquiry and based on the consultation process.
Terms of Reference will,
- Look at what happened and why; what was known at the time.
- Establish the scale of what happened.
- Examine impact on affected and infected, as well as the support which has or has not been made available.
- Explore key ethical issues around consent, communication, and information sharing.
- Look at the response of Government and others.
- Examine whether there has been a cover up or lack of candour and openness.
It will look at both individual and organisational responsibly. It will look for the lessons that can be learnt. In due course a more detailed list of issues will be published, informed by the Preliminary Hearings, to describe what will be examined under each Term of Reference.
The Inquiry does not underestimate the scale of the task at hand which is immense. For example, the Inquiry isn’t being bound on it’s terms of reference and is already seeking documents going right back to the start of the NHS in 1948. It also has the largest number of core participants at any Public Inquiry.
The Scottish Government
Currently the Scottish Health and Social Care Department is not a Core Participant. The current position of the Scottish Government is that is does not want to be a Core Participant because it doesn’t believe the Infected Blood Inquiry should duplicate the work of the Penrose Inquiry in Scotland. The Infected Blood Inquiry are disappointed that they have taken that view and do not share that analysis. They were clear that the decision about whether to be a Core Participant does not affect their intention for their work to cover Scotland. They have no reason to believe that the Scottish Government will not provide voluntarily any documents which are asked of it. However, the Inquiry is prepared to use it’s powers to compel if necessary.
Infected and Affected Witness Statements
Gathering witness statements from affected and infected people is a top priority. The Inquiry is expecting over 2,000 people to give a statements. Over 600 of those will be giving statements directly to the Inquiry where people don’t have legal representation. The lawyers of those who are represented will be funded to take their statements. Affected or infected witnesses will be able to request for their statement to be anonymise. There will be no charges for accessing medical records.
The Inquiry also recognised some affected and infected people have build up a lot of knowledge over years of campaign. They are keen to work closely with those individuals to benefit from that knowledge.
The next strand of the investigation is to seek all relevant documents. The process is fairly formal with requests being made in writing, known as Rule 9 requests. Only if they are not supplied can the Inquiry compel them using Section 21. The statement did not say if any Section 21 actions had been taken. 4864 documents are due to be disclosed shortly to core participants using a document management system.
Five Expert Groups are being set up.
- Medical Ethics
- Public Health and Administration
- Psychosocial Impact
Core Participants will be invited to suggest questions for each group. All reports from the Expert Groups will be published and Core Participants will be able to suggest additional questions. Membership of the Expert Groups has not been finalised and they hope that Core Participants will make further suggestions.
There will be regular information meetings in Edinburgh and other cities around the UK. Evidence sessions will also take place in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, and London. There will also be sessions in the north of England, probably Leeds.
30th of April 2019 will start taking evidence sitting for three weeks out of four and up to four days a week.
From October it will start hearing evidence relating to the first theme in the terms of reference. These hearings are expected to take 5 months.
The expected order for the subsequent sessions will be,
- Financial support
- Ethical issues
- Proposed recommendations
- The final hearings will be another opportunity to hear from the infected and affected community.
The hearings will not take less than a year and a quarter.
The Inquiry does expect to take witness statements from senior politicians and decision makers. Some of those will also be called to give evidence. The Inquiry expects they will come without compulsion but are prepared to use those powers if necessary.
The nature of the Inquiry
Jenni Richards QC stressed that the Inquiry is inquisitorial not adversarial. Very different from a litigation. There are no parties, sides, or cases to prove. There is a process of investigation.
The Inquiry team are acutely aware of the damage that have been done to lives by the infections. They will do everything they can to get the answers that affected and infected people need.
For the exact wordings please check against delivery using the youtube video published by the Infected Blood Inquiry (above) or the full transcript expected to appear on their website soon.
- The Infected Blood Inquiry
- Haemophilia Scotland Infected Blood Inquiry Page
- Scottish Infected Blood Forum
- Thompsons Solicitors Scotland