8/12/2022·3 mins to read
COVID-19 Royal Commission - what does it cover and how to get involved?
A Royal Commission of Inquiry into Lessons Learned from Aotearoa New Zealand’s Response to COVID-19 That Should Be Applied in Preparation for a Future Pandemic (the COVID-19 Inquiry) has been established.
The COVID-19 Inquiry will commence with the consideration of evidence from 1 February 2023, and will conclude with a report of recommendations by 26 June 2024.
Type, membership, purpose
A Royal Commission of Inquiry is the highest form of public inquiry. Royal Commissions are appointed by and report to the Governor-General for the purpose of inquiring into, and reporting on, any matter of public importance. They have very extensive powers, including the ability to require information and documents to be provided to them.
The COVID-19 Inquiry will be chaired by Australia-based epidemiologist Professor Antony Blakely, who makes up part of the three-member panel, alongside former National party Cabinet Minister, Hon. Hekia Parata, and former Treasury Secretary John Whitehead, CNZM, KStJ. The panel reflects the Government’s focus on ensuring relevant expertise, knowledge and independence is brought to the table.
The terms of reference for the COVID-19 Inquiry was agreed by Cabinet on 5 December 2022: they can be accessed here.
The purpose of the COVID-19 Inquiry is to strengthen Aotearoa New Zealand’s preparedness for, and response to, any future pandemic that may hit its shores. The aim is for the lessons identified from the country’s response to COVID-19 to be applied in preparation for any future pandemic response.
The COVID-19 Inquiry will assess the effectiveness of New Zealand’s elimination strategy and subsequent minimisation and protection strategy (and associated measures) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, between February 2020 and October 2022. This assessment is to be done with regard to New Zealand’s circumstances, what was known at the time, and the strategies used by comparable nations.
The COVID-19 Inquiry’s forward looking, future proofing focus will look at the following areas:
The legislative and regulatory framework needed to support a public health response to a pandemic, including isolation and quarantine measures, vaccine mandates and other public health measures.
Communication with, and mobilisation of, communities and people in relation to supporting public health outcomes over an extended period.
The legislative and regulatory framework required to ensure the continued supply of goods and services to support isolation and other protective measures during a pandemic, including education and childcare, essential services and government services.
The legislative and regulatory settings required to support immediate and short term economic measures in response to a future pandemic, including temporary financial support to individuals, businesses and sectors, and the preservation of certain industries.
Decision-making structures and procedures that can be set up or utilised during an evolving pandemic of extended length.
Consideration of the interests of Māori in the context of a pandemic, in accordance with Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Consideration of the impact on, and support for, essential workers and communities that may be disproportionately impacted by a pandemic.
There are some limitations. The scope excludes looking at issues on an individual level or those not considered essential to future planning, such as specific decisions made by clinicians or public health authorities during the pandemic, vaccine efficacy, recent national health reforms and the operation of the private sector during the pandemic (except where it delivered essential services).
Prospective engagement and participation
It is not yet clear how the COVID-19 Inquiry will operate in practice. It, like all Royal Commissions of Inquiry, will be able to set its own procedures in accordance with section 14 of the Inquiries Act 2013. It may decide to hold public hearings, conduct interviews, receive oral or written submissions from various participants, and request written or oral evidence via its compulsory powers under the Inquiries Act.
We will provide further updates on how the COVID-19 Inquiry will conduct itself and how you or your organisation could participate as this becomes clearer.
In the meantime, you may wish to consider whether the terms of reference apply to your organisation, how your organisation or its work may be affected by the COVID-19 Inquiry, and what relevant evidence you may hold.
If you would like assistance with this and any subsequent participation, please reach out to your relationship partner or one of our public law experts.