FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that an inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic will begin by the end of the year.

The announcement came during a press briefing at St Andrew's House in Edinburgh on Tuesday afternoon. 

The inquiry will be a statutory judge-led public inquiry into the "handling of the pandemic", Sturgeon said. 

The First Minister confirmed that the process has begun to get the inquiry under way and that the Lord Advocate has started discussions with the Lord President to appoint a judge to lead it. 

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Sturgeon confirmed that the probe would be "person centred" with a "human rights-based approach".

The Scottish Government today announced draft aims for the inquiry and opened a period of consultation which will run from now until September.

The issues under scrutiny will be areas of devolved competence, including care homes. 

It comes as members of the Scottish branch of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign met with Deputy First Minister John Swinney earlier this morning. 

The Scottish Greens welcomed the inquiry announcement and said that it is vital the government handling of the pandemic is "subject to the most thorough scrutiny" to "learn every lesson possible" incase of any future public health crises. 

The First Minister also said the Scottish Government will liase with the UK Government and devolved governments to avoid "duplication and overlap".

The National:

The First Minister confirmed the Covid-19 inquiry will begin by the end of the year

The First Minister said: "I can confirm that, today, we have started the process of getting the inquiry up and running. It will be established by the end of this year as promised and will take a persons-centered, human rights based approach.

"We have just published draft aims and principles for the inquiry which, following consultation between now and the end of September, with interested parties, including bereaved families, are intended to become the formal Terms of Reference.

"A copy of the draft and details of how to contribute views can be found on the Scottish Government website.

"The Lord Advocate has also begun discussions with the Lord President about appointing a judge to lead the inquiry. It is fully our intention that this will be a judge-led inquiry.

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"The inquiry will look at all matters related to the handling of the pandemic that were within our devolved competence. This will include, of course, the situation in care homes."

The First Minister also said that the Scottish Government will "liase closely" with the UK Government and other devolved nations on terms for a UK wide inquiry to avoid "duplication, overlap and reduce the burden on those giving evidence".

She continued: "However, the need for co-operation with other governments is not a reason to delay the establishment of our own inquiry.

"I believe that a full public inquiry has a very important role to play, both in scrutinising the decisions we took - and indeed continue to take - in the course of the pandemic, and also in identifying and learning lessons for the future."

The First Minister was asked to guarantee to bereaved families of those who died from Covid-19 that "nothing will be off limits" to the inquiry including emails and Whatsapp messages.

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Jane Morrison (left), Peter McMahon and Connie McCready, of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, watched the First Minister's briefing today in Glasgow

The First Minister said: "I think if you understand statutory public inquiries that even if I wasn’t prepared to give that assurance, which for the avoidance of doubt I am, then I won’t have the ability. This will be a judge-led statutory inquiry.

"I think it's also fair to say, I would say it as the First Minister of the Scottish Government but it's also fact, we’re further ahead than any other government in the UK right now in not just committing to a public inquiry but actually getting it into operation."

The First Minister added: "I desperately want every appropriate lesson from what we’ve gone through to be learned so that any future government, hopefully not for decades to come, but any future government that is in a similar situation has the benefit of that learning."

It comes as Deputy FM Swinney met with members of the Scottish branch of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice in Glasgow on Tuesday. 

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The group's solicitor Aamer Anwar said that the families were "grateful" that the Scottish Government listened to their demands and that an inquiry will take place.

Anwar said that the announcement was the "first important step in establishing accountability" for the lives lost to Covid-19 in Scotland and that the inquiry must be "truly independent" and "leave no stone unturned".

He added: "To be effective and meaningful, grieving families must be at the heart of the inquiry process to get to the truth of what happened. 

"The key to any Public Inquiry is the Chairperson and expert panel, the families wish to see those with sufficient seniority and expertise appointed, with the ability to work closely with bereaved families and a proven track record of independence, robustness and willingness to ask difficult questions."

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It comes as Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater (pictured) welcomed the "necessary" inquiry.

She said: “Since the virus landed on these shores last year we’ve witnessed it tear through care homes, endured multiple lockdowns, seen schools closed, watched as scientists raced to develop vaccines and had to get used to a new normal of mask wearing.

“It’s vital that the government’s handling of the pandemic is subject to the most thorough scrutiny, and that’s why this inquiry is so necessary.

"It’s essential that we establish how the country could have been better prepared, and learn every lesson possible, to ensure we are in a better position to handle future public health crises.”