Friday, 16 June 2017

Civil Contingencies - a brief note

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is the location of the 14th June disastrous fire at Grenfell Tower - a high-rise block of flats.  The Borough also has a large number of empty properties and the Council has put in place a number of measures to try to reduce the number - see RBKC Empty Homes and CityA.M 21st April 2017 where it is said that the Borough has the most empty properties of any London Borough.

The Independent 15th June reports that Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn has called for homes left vacant in Kensington and Chelsea by overseas investors to be “requisitioned” in order to rehouse those left homeless due to the Grenfell Tower fire. Is there a legal power to do this?

Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights gives a qualified right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions.  Article 1 of Protocol 1 states:

"Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions.  No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.

The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties."

Hence, deprivation of possessions is legally possible if it is done as specified in the Article - i.e. in the public interest etc.

The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 provides for the handling of emergencies as defined in the Act (section 19).  The Act gives a power to make Emergency Regulations (section 20) and imposes conditions for the exercise of this power (section 21).  Such regulations could be very extensive in nature (see section 22) and could include a power to requisition or confiscate property (with or without compensation).

The Act is the most extensive range of emergency powers ever enacted in the UK outside of wartime.  It is probably the case that the problems (e.g. homelessness) arising from the Grenfell Tower fire can be managed without recourse to the 2004 Act but the existence of these extensive powers is worth noting.

The Prime Minister has announced that there is to be an Inquiry into the Grenfell Tower Fire - Telegraph 15th June.  Fuller details are awaited.

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