We can this week confirm a revised timetable for the Inquiry’s hearings, which have been rescheduled to commence in November 2021.
The pandemic and, in particular, the most recent lockdown have had a significant effect on the Inquiry’s ability to obtain evidence. Many of the Inquiry’s potential witnesses are vulnerable and are likely to need an interpreter in addition to substantial assistance from their lawyers. The Inquiry recognises that taking evidence from these witnesses remotely will present particular challenges. In light of this, wherever possible, the Inquiry will ensure that they will be able to give their evidence in person. Given the need for COVID restrictions to be substantially relaxed for this to happen, the Chair has made a provisional determination that the hearings should be rescheduled to commence in November 2021.
Some potential witnesses have also expressed concern about giving evidence until a decision is made by the Secretary of State for the Home Department on whether to grant a limited undertaking to the effect that any evidence given by individuals who were detained will not be used to support certain adverse immigration decisions. This was requested by the Chair on 23 November 2020 and we anticipate an answer shortly.
We continue to work through all the evidence received, which includes a substantial volume of documents from a range of different sources. Disclosure of material to Core Participants has been delayed because of the need to discuss redactions with document providers before disclosure, and because of the difficulties that some of those providers have had in responding to Inquiry requests.
As a result of these issues, the Chair has decided that it is not practicable to commence the substantive hearings this summer and has made a provisional determination that they should be rescheduled to commence in November 2021.
The future shape of the pandemic, the effect of vaccination and the prospect of further “waves” remain uncertain and the possibility of further changes to the timetable cannot be entirely ruled out.
The Chair is committed to ensuring that we continue to make timely progress, however this must be balanced against the need for thorough and effective hearings which make a meaningful contribution to the Inquiry.