Hugo Keith KC: relentless truth-seeker at the core of Covid investigation

Lead counsel’s rigorous examination of prominent politicians, officials, and scientists has catapulted him into the national spotlight.
This is not the typical stuff that nightmares are made of.
However, it’s understandable if Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak find themselves haunted this Christmas by an impeccably dressed, mellifluous-voiced man posing polite yet incredibly difficult questions.
Hugo Keith KC is no stranger to prominence in the legal realm, but as the lead counsel for the Covid inquiry, his relentless interrogation of leading politicians, officials, and scientists has earned him national recognition.
In the most recent segment of the inquiry, which focused on decision-making within the government, Keith challenged not only Johnson and Sunak, but also figures like Dominic Cummings, Michael Gove, Matt Hancock, Chris Whitty, and Patrick Vallance.
Keith’s primary role is to uncover facts, aiming to provide Heather Hallett, the chair of the inquiry, with a comprehensive understanding of what transpired and the resulting lessons, if any.
However, there is an inevitable adversarial aspect to this process, particularly evident in the recent hearings, as Keith probed individuals with personal stakes in the final findings, exposing inconsistencies and omissions in their testimonies.
Some witnesses responded with irritation, such as Johnson dismissing claims that he suggested older individuals should accept their fate with the virus as “rubbish.” In stark contrast, Sunak seemed to have conveniently forgotten almost everything about the pandemic period.
Like a skilled barrister, Keith strategically presented new evidence, catching individuals off-guard with screenshots of incriminating WhatsApp conversations or excerpts from the diary of Vallance, the former chief scientific adviser.
There were also moments of levity, with Keith repeatedly emphasizing, to Hancock’s evident exasperation, that the former health secretary’s “pandemic diary” was not actually a real-time account, but had been written retrospectively.
Arguably, the only witness who proved to be Keith’s equal was Gove, whose eloquent but digressive contributions prompted an impatient plea to stick to answering the questions rather than delivering impromptu lectures.
Nevertheless, commanding an inquiry room is second nature to Keith, a 56-year-old joint head of chambers at the Three Raymond Buildings barristers’ practice. He previously appeared as counsel in the Leveson inquiry on behalf of Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of The Sun.
Keith, who began his career as a barrister in 1989 and became a Queen’s Counsel in 2009, is also well-acquainted with Hallett. He served as counsel during the inquest into the 7 July 2005 terrorist attacks in London, where she presided.
This is not Keith’s first encounter with prominent figures in the legal sphere. In 2002, he represented Princess Anne when she became the first senior member of the royal family to be convicted of a criminal offense, due to an incident involving her dog.
Anne pleaded guilty, and Keith’s task was to persuade the court to consider the mitigating circumstances related to her English bull terrier, Dotty, insisting that the dog was “exceptionally well-behaved and entirely lacking malice,” and had only “nipped” two children due to exuberance.
The Covid inquiry is not a trial, although witnesses are still required to testify under oath. Similarly, Keith’s objective is not to steer anyone toward a particular outcome, but rather to bring as much clarity as possible to Hallett and her team.
Nevertheless, some of his questions carry the weight and significance of the most serious criminal cases. One notable moment occurred with Johnson, when Keith highlighted the former prime minister’s apologies for errors during the pandemic: were these mistakes only evident in hindsight, or could they have been preempted?
After several minutes of evasion, an answer was finally revealed: the former. It is now up to Hallett to reach her own verdict. However, Johnson, Sunak, and the rest will anxiously await her opinion, knowing that Keith’s contributions significantly influenced its formation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *