Thursday, 29 June 2017

Grenfell Tower Inquiry Chairman

Updated 10th July:

Former Lord Justice of Appeal, Sir Martin Moore-Bick has been appointed Chairman of an Inquiry to examine the Grenfell Tower fire.  This was announced today (29th June) by the Prime Minister - see No. 10 Downing Street, announcement.

A website for the Inquiry has been set up and will be used to provide the latest information on the Inquiry, including details of hearings, evidence and how to contact the Inquiry Team.

Sir Martin was called to the Bar in 1969 and practised mainly as a commercial lawyer.  He became Queen's Counsel (QC) in 1986, was appointed High Court Judge in 1995 and Lord Justice of Appeal in 2005.  He retired from the bench in December 2016.

The all-important Terms of Reference for the Inquiry have yet to be set. 
The Prime Minister's statement informs us that - "Before the Inquiry starts Sir Martin will consult all those with an interest, including survivors and victims’ families, about the terms of reference. Following that consultation he will make a recommendation to me. I will return to Parliament with the final terms of reference once this process has taken place. Then the Inquiry will begin its work."

Survivors and families are likely to need legal assistance to participate adequately in this exercise.  If, as the Prime Minister's statement says - "No stone will be left unturned by this Inquiry" - then it will be vital that the Terms of Reference are wide enough to enable that to be achieved.

Some controversy:

It appears that there has been some controversy over Sir Martin's appointment - Owen Bowcott - The Guardian 28th June - Grenfell Tower inquiry judge has controversial history in housing cases.  This appears to arise from a unanimous judgment of the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) in Nzolameso v City of Westminster [2014] EWCA Civ 1383.  The actual judgment was overturned by the Supreme Court - see [2015] UKSC 22.   It is significant that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government intervened when the case was before the Supreme Court.  The intervention was helpful to Nzolameso. Please read the judgment(s) from which it will be seen that, in accordance with proper judicial practice, Sir Martin and his colleagues decided the case entirely on the view they had reached as to the relevant law. Appeals are part and parcel of the legal system and there are no grounds to read anything into the Supreme Court's decision other than the fact that the Justices disagreed with the courts below as to the law.

Sir Martin also sat in the Court of Appeal in the case of Poshteh v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.  This was a majority decision (McCombe and Moore-Bick LJJ) with Elias LJ dissenting.  The majority decision was upheld by the Supreme Court.  This meant that the Reviewing Officer's decision prevailed.  See the Supreme Court judgment.

Added 11th July - Writing for The New Statesman, Secret Barrister - notes that Sir Martin shared in the unanimity of the judgment in Hussain v Waltham Forest London Borough Council [2015] EWCA Civ 14, one of the later cases in his career before he retired in December last year.  The Court of Appeal took a wide view of domestic violence in relation to homelessness cases.

Does an Inquiry have to be a single judge?

NO.  The Inquiries Act 2005 section 3 states - An inquiry is to be undertaken either - (a) by a chairman alone, or (b) by a chairman with one or more other members.

The appointment of Sir Martin suggests that this Inquiry will be a chairman alone.  There could be considerable merit in adopting (b) particularly given criticisms that can arise with single-member panels.  IF there is a decision to proceed under (b) then the Inquiries Act 2005 section 8 requires that "balance" in the panel be considered to avoid the panel leaning toward any particular viewpoint.

Advisory Panel set up by Minister:

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has a webpage on Grenfell Tower.   The Secretary of State (Mr Sajid Javid MP) has put in place an independent expert advisory panel to advise on any immediate measures that can be put in place to make buildings safe following the Grenfell Tower fire - see HERE   The panel is separate from the inquiry.

For Terms of Reference of this Panel see HERE.


At the time of writing, fairly frequent developments are taking place and updates will be added below.

Update 1 - BBC News 29th June - Grenfell Tower Judge 'doubt' over inquiry scope - This contains what is clearly an extract from an interview given by Sir Martin when he visited Grenfell Tower.  Sir Martin said that the inquiry will be independent and wished to hear from anyone with information that may be of value.  He then went on to note that residents want a much "broader investigation" and he was "more doubtful" whether the inquiry was the right way to achieve that.  He then referred to there being potentially a lot of material to examine and said that he would be disappointed if an interim report could not be issued in under a year.

Update 2 - Independent 29th June - Grenfell Tower fire: Judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick 'doubtful' public inquiry will satisfy residents.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick met with survivors at the site of the north Kensington blaze, but he said afterwards: “I’ve been asked to undertake this inquiry on the basis that it would be pretty well limited to the problems surrounding the start of the fire and its rapid development in order to make recommendations about how this sort of thing can be prevented in future."  He added: “I’m well aware the residents and the local people want a much broader investigation and I can fully understand why they would want that. Whether my inquiry is the right way in which to achieve that I’m more doubtful."

The precise terms of reference remain to be seen.  The Prime Minister's statement states that she will announce them to Parliament.  It remain to be seen whether Sir Martin's comments have damaged what public confidence there is in the inquiry.  It will appear unsatisfactory if, for example, the terms of reference exclude detailed examination of how the present fire regulatory regime came about and whether it is adequate.  Similarly, with regard to Building Regulations and their enforcement.  Those are clearly matters in the public mind and they need to be adequately addressed.

Update 3 - On 21st June, the Chief Executive of Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council resigned - Independent 21st June.  On 30th June, after mounting pressure, the Council Leader - Mr. Nicholas Paget-Brown - also resigned - Independent 30th June.

Update 4 - Kensington and Chelsea Deputy Council Leader resigns - Independent 30th June.

Update 5 - Head of the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation resigns - Independent 30th June.

Update 6 - Resignation statements by Councillors - Nicholas Paget-Brown and Rock Feilding-Mellen

Update 7 - Grenfell Tower fire: MPs call for Government to seize control of Kensington and Chelsea Council - Independent 30th June 2017.  This article comments about calls for Commissioners to be sent into Kensington and Chelsea to take over running of the Council.

The article also states that Mr Jeremy Corbyn (Leader of the Opposition) has written to the Prime Minister about the terms of reference for the inquiry.  He commented that an inquiry with narrow terms of reference risks failing to learn all the lessons of this tragedy.  His letter seeks a two part inquiry: (1) specific issues around Grenfell and (2) national issues and he called for a report from (1) by September 2017.  The letter raised several other points including whether "advisers" would be appointed to the inquiry; identification of ALL victims of the fire; overhaul of building regulations as recommended by Coroners who conducted inquests into the Lakamal House Fire and the Shirley Tower Fire.

Update 8 (3rd July) - The Guardian - Grenfell inquiry head must quit - campaigners.  The article reports continuing concern over Sir Martin's role in the Nzolameso case (above) which, campaigners claim, gave councils the green light to "socially cleanse."

Update 9 (4th July) - The Guardian - Grenfell residents should boycott a superficial public inquiry

Update 10 (4th July) - Attorney-General's Office - Protection from prosecution for unlawful subletting at Grenfell Tower.

Update 11 (4th July) - Bristol Law School - Grenfell Tower - learning from air accident investigation

Update 12 (4th July) - Statement by the Lord Chancellor

Update 13 (8th July) - BBC News - Grenfell firefighters 'hampered by equipment' 

Update 14 (10th July) - BBC News - Grenfell - Police say 255 people survived fire

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