Skip to content

Frequently asked questions

These FAQs answer common questions that people and organisations might have regarding the Inquiry.

What is the Thirlwall Inquiry?

The Thirlwall Inquiry is an independent public inquiry. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announced that there would be a statutory inquiry on 4 September 2023. The formal set-up date for the purposes of section 5 of the Inquiries Act 2005 was 19 October 2023. 

The Inquiry takes as its starting point the events at the Countess of Chester Hospital and their implications. On 21st August 2023 at Manchester Crown Court, Lucy Letby was sentenced to life imprisonment and a whole life order following convictions on 7 counts of murder and 7 counts of attempted murder.

The Inquiry’s key objectives are to seek answers for the victims’ families and ensure lessons are learned. The Inquiry will also examine the wider circumstances, including the response and conduct of the NHS, its staff and its regulators.

Who is the Chair?

The Rt Hon Lady Justice Thirlwall, was appointed to Chair the Inquiry on 4 September 2023. Lady Justice Thirlwall, is responsible for discharging the Inquiry’s terms of reference and supervising its progress. She cannot make any findings of civil or criminal liability. She will publish her findings and recommendations in a report.  At the moment, the Chair has not decided whether the Inquiry report will be published in phases or at the conclusion of the Inquiry.

What is the purpose of a Public Inquiry?

A public inquiry is set up to look at a matter of public concern and is fully independent of Government. Unlike proceedings in court, an inquiry is not adversarial. It is an inquisitorial process. The ambit of a Public Inquiry is set out in its terms of reference. Though inquiries cannot determine criminal or civil liability, they can highlight where failings have occurred.

How do Statutory Inquiries work?

  • Statutory public inquiries run according to the rules in the Inquiries Act 2005 and Inquiry Rules 2006.
  • Inquiries are always established by a Government minister but, once established, are independent of Government. Inquiries must be fearless in looking for the truth and make findings of fact. If appropriate these will include identifying those at fault; however, the law does not allow an Inquiry to make findings of criminal or civil liability.
  • Inquiries always have a chair, often a judge, appointed by the minister.
  • Any person or organisation can be made to produce relevant documents. It is a criminal offence to intentionally withhold a document required by the Inquiry or deliberately to obstruct its work. Inquiries enable people with a particular interest to be Core Participants. They have certain rights.
  • All relevant evidence will be shared in advance of hearings with Core Participants.
  • Core Participants can suggest lines of questioning they wish to be pursued by the Inquiry.
  • Inquiries hold hearings and any person or relevant organisation can be called as a witness to give evidence.
  • Witnesses can be asked questions by Counsel to the Inquiry or by legal representatives of Core Participants (with the Chair’s permission).
  • Inquiries are public. In general, the Chair must take reasonable steps to ensure that the public can watch hearings and view the record of evidence. The Chair must not depart from that rule unless there is very good reason.
  • Inquiries must produce a written report with their findings and recommendations. Under the Act, this must be made public.

What is the format of the Thirlwall Inquiry?

The Thirlwall Inquiry has been established under the Inquiries Act 2005. It is therefore a statutory inquiry which has certain powers, including to compel evidence, under the Act.  Other inquiries established under the Act include the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry and the Covid-19 Inquiry. Such inquiries are essentially inquisitorial in nature and, subject to the legislative provisions, their procedure and conduct are matters for the Chair to decide. As such, no two inquiries are the same. The Inquiry is charged with carrying out an investigation within its Terms of Reference.

When did the Inquiry start?

The Thirlwall Inquiry was formally established by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on 19 October 2023.

What are the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference?

How will the Inquiry keep the public updated?

The Inquiry will publish updates on its work, including future hearing dates, protocols, relevant documents and ultimately the Chair’s report, to its website.

When are the hearings being held?

The Inquiry will begin its substantive hearings on 10 September 2024, with opening statements from Counsel to the Inquiry and from legal representatives of Core Participants.

Precise dates and times for past and upcoming hearings can be found on the Inquiry’s hearing page.

Where are the hearings being held and how can the public follow them?

The Inquiry proceedings will take place at Liverpool Town Hall, High St, Liverpool L2 3SW. An area of the hearing room has been designated for the public to attend the hearings in person.

The public will be invited to register their interest to attend upcoming hearings in due course.

Why is the Inquiry not livestreaming its hearings?

Following submissions on livestreaming from recognised legal representatives of Core Participants and the Media, the Chair ruled that livestreaming will not be permitted. A summary of this ruling is available on the Inquiry website. The Inquiry will be held in public, with space provided in the hearing room at Liverpool Town Hall to accommodate members of the public and accredited press. Live links will also be available to all Core Participants, their representatives, and accredited media so that proceedings may be followed remotely.

Will records of hearings be made available?

On each day of hearings, the transcript and evidence considered will be published on the Inquiry’s website unless any contrary order or restriction order made under section 19 of the Inquiries Act 2005 is in place. Directions, submissions and rulings will also be made available, when appropriate.

What is the difference between preliminary hearings and public hearings?

A preliminary hearing is a procedural hearing heard in public at which decisions about the procedure for the conduct of public hearings will be made. At public hearings, the Inquiry will formally hear evidence including from witnesses under oath.

All hearings will be open to the public and media unless a restriction order, made under section 19 of the Inquiries Act 2005, is in place.

What is a Core Participant?

A Core Participant is a person, institution or organisation that has a specific interest in the work of the Inquiry, and has a formal role defined by legislation. Core Participants have special rights in the Inquiry process. These include receiving documentation, being represented and making legal submissions, suggesting questions and receiving advance notice of the Inquiry’s report. You do not need to be a Core Participant to provide evidence to the Inquiry.

Who are witnesses?

A witness is someone who has evidence relating to the matters being investigated by the Inquiry. This could be as a witness to an event or through the records they hold (e.g. documents or data). Every witness will have provided the Inquiry with a written statement, and some will also give oral evidence at hearings. An individual or organisation can be both a core participant and a witness. Information for vulnerable witnesses can be found in the Inquiry’s ‘Protocol on vulnerable witnesses’.

Who can be called to give evidence at a Public Inquiry?

Under the Inquiries Act 2005, the Chair has a wide range of powers, including the power to compel the production of documents and to summon witnesses to give evidence on oath. The Chair can call any relevant person, or organisation, to give evidence to the Inquiry.

Will the Inquiry restrict the publication/reporting of certain details (e.g. the names of victims)?

The Inquiry will be conducted in as open and transparent a manner as possible. However,  court orders made in the criminal proceedings relating to the crimes of Lucy Letby remain in place which prevent the reporting of certain identifying details (e.g. the names of babies and their families and certain witnesses). The Inquiry will comply with these orders and will redact the details which are subject to those orders before materials are disclosed to Core Participants or published on its website.

Documents provided to the Inquiry by individuals or organisations should not, however, be redacted before they are provided to the Inquiry.  See the Inquiry’s ‘Protocol on documents’ and ‘Protocol on redactions’ for further information.

Should an individual or organisation wish to protect information that they consider is sensitive and should not be disclosed to the Inquiry and/or made public, they can apply to the Chair for a restriction order in accordance with section 19 of the Act and the Inquiry’s ‘Protocol on applications for restrictions orders’.

Will there be an inquiry report?

Under the Inquiries Act 2005, the report must be made public. Further details about any report to be published by the Inquiry will be updated on the website in due course.

Does the Inquiry have a Freedom of Information policy?

The Inquiry is not covered by the Freedom of Information Act, but will endeavour to conduct proceedings as openly and transparently as possible. As part of this, as much information as possible will be provided on this website.

The Inquiry is working to ensure continuity of emotional support for the families involved in the Inquiry. Further information about the Inquiry’s support offer for witnesses and Core Participants will be provided as soon as possible.