A LEADING academic has said the public inquiry into coronavirus in Scotland should be heard by a judge from outside the country given the Lord Advocate’s role had been “unfortunately tarnished” by other investigations.

In an email to the Scottish Government, Professor Andrew Watterson who has been researching Covid-19, said such a move would give people confidence about its “impartiality, transparency and in its findings”.

While welcoming the inquiry announcement, Watterson, from the Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group at the University of Stirling, sought clarification on some aspects of the draft proposal.

On its independence, he said that as ministers will set the terms of reference, it did not appear that all areas the judge might want to explore will be covered.

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The draft said ministers will decide the detail on “particular matters to be determined, for example whether the inquiry is being invited to review policy in a given area or consider the facts of a particular case”.

He asked: “Can the Scottish Government clarify that this will not mean certain matters will be beyond the terms of reference if the ministers so choose?

“Such terms of reference would hamstring the inquiry and greatly limit its value as well as contributing to possible public distrust of findings.”

Watterson noted the draft saying the inquiry’s purpose was to investigate events causing “public concern”, but that it was unclear how these would be identified and by whom.

He went on: “Concerns must surely include all Covid events in Scotland as they occurred from spring 2020 to the summer and autumn of 2021. This therefore would require the inquiry to look at lockdowns and delayed lockdowns and not just Covid cases and causes within the NHS and care homes.”

He said the sectors would include education, workplaces, transport and emergency services, as well as essential and key workers, and how policies such as working from home, physical distancing, ventilation, PPE selection and vaccination affected them. Pandemic planning pre-March 2020, would be critical, along with an examination of information the Scottish Government and its advisors obtained about Covid policies in countries where suppression had worked well.

Watterson said that while he understood the inquiry can only look at matters devolved to Scotland, pandemic events and policies here entailed much that had been devolved prior to the pandemic, during it and in new areas after March 2020.

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“An example of the former that will require scrutiny is vaccination policy because the Scottish Government is not bound by Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advice,” said Watterson.

“An example of the latter would be the development by the Scottish Government of workplace guidance on Covid where the Health and Safety Executive did not take a UK-wide lead but left this to the public health bodies in the devolved countries.”

He added: “The Scottish Government has taken the lead on setting up an independent inquiry and it should not be delayed by waiting for the UK Government to begin an inquiry or preclude areas of investigation.”

The Scottish Government said discussions were under way with the Lord President to identify a judge to chair the inquiry, and referred The National to the consultation paper, which said: “A Scottish inquiry can only look into devolved matters in relation to Scotland.

“The inquiry will operate independently of government, but we will engage with people and their representatives to ensure its terms of reference cover issues that have caused concern.

“Stakeholder views, including the views of those bereaved during the pandemic, will be fundamental in reviewing the suggested approach to establishing a Covid-19 inquiry in Scotland and finalising the terms of reference.”