Tuesday 5 September 2017

Grenfell Tower ~ Panel and Assessors

The Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry Chairman wrote to the Prime Minister on 10th August regarding the Inquiry Terms of Reference.  His letter referred to appointment of assessors - (Letter to PM).  Sir Martin wrote - " ... I think is is likely that I shall wish to appoint a diverse group of people whose experience extends to the occupation and management of social housing and the administration of local government more generally, as well as to matters of a more scientific nature.  At a later stage I may also wish to appoint others to assist on particular aspects of the investigation."

The Inquiries Act 2005:

The Inquiries Act 2005 distinguishes the "Inquiry Panel" from "Assessors."   The Inquiry Panel may consist of just the Inquiry Chairman - (section 3) - and the Inquiry Panel is appointed in writing by the Minister - (section 4).   The Minister has a duty under section 6 to make a statement to Parliament stating (a) who is to be, or has been, appointed as chairman of the inquiry; (b) whether the Minister has appointed, or proposes to appoint, any other members to the inquiry panel, and if so how many; (c) what are to be, or are, the inquiry's terms of reference.

Assessors are the subject of section 11 which states that one or more persons may be appointed to act as assessors to assist the inquiry panel.  A person may be appointed as an assessor only if it appears to the Minister or the chairman (as the case requires) that he has expertise that makes him a suitable person to provide assistance to the inquiry panel.  There is no legal duty in section 11 to require the Minister to make a statement to Parliament regarding assessors.  The role of assessor is clearly related to particular expertise which the Inquiry Panel considers to be required.  

A letter from Lawyers:

The Guardian 4th September reported that lawyers acting for the family of one of the victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster have written to the prime minister, warning her that she may be in breach of key laws relating to the public inquiry.  Mr Hesham Rahman, 57, who lived on the top floor of Grenfell Tower, was identified using dental records and DNA. He suffered from diabetes and had difficulty using the stairs. An inquest into his death opened last week at Westminster coroner’s court, where coroner Fiona Wilcox heard that his death was consistent with the effects of fire.

The letter to the prime minister expresses concern about her failure to abide by clauses in the Inquiries Act 2005 requiring her to announce membership of the panel advising the inquiry.  (My emphasis). While the inquiry chair, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, who has been copied into the letter, has proposed appointing people whose experience extends to occupation and management of social housing and the administration of local government, as well as matters of a more technical scientific nature, there is no mention of panel members who reflect the religious and racial diversity of those who died in the fire and those who survived it.

The lawyers have also reminded the prime minister of her duty under the Equality Act 2010 – the public sector equality duty. This requires her to have “due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it”.

The letter states: “Given the context, and the background of a large number of the victims, we consider that you can only achieve this by appointing an ethnically and religiously diverse panel who have the relevant expertise to assist the chair and ensure public trust and confidence in the inquiry.”

Equality Act 2010:

The Public Sector Equality Duty is in the Equality Act 2010 section 149 but exceptions in Schedule 18 apply.  One of the exceptions is Judicial Functions - paragraph 3 of the Schedule - "Section 149 does not apply to the exercise of - (a) a judicial function; (b) a function exercised on behalf of, or on the instructions of, a person exercising a judicial function.  References to a judicial function include a reference to a judicial function conferred on a person other than a court or tribunal.


It appears that there is no legal duty for the Prime Minister to announce membership of the panel advising the inquiry - i.e. Assessors.  Appointments of assessors is in the hands of the Inquiry Chairman who alone constitutes the Inquiry Panel because the Prime Minister has not appointed any other members of the Inquiry Panel.

It will be for the Chairman to decide whether he invites comments about any assessor appointments he wishes to make.  Lord Justice Leveson conducted his Inquiry into the Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press with six assessors and he adopted a Protocol under which he would announce publicly if  he was provisionally minded to appoint an additional assessor and if any of the core participants wished to object they could do so in writing.  The Protocol said that the Chairman would have regard to such objections and any grounds given in it.

If Sir Martin were to adopt a similar practice then any points raised could be taken into account but it appears that the public sector equality duty is not legally applicable if, as surely it ought to be, the inquiry is regarded to be a "judicial function."


54 inquests have so far been opened - Inquests opened into Victims Hesham Rahman and Ernie Vital

The inquests are being held at Westminster Coroner's Court

Questions of liability:

Inquests are limited to the matters referred to in section 5 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 and they do not determine questions of civil or criminal liability.

The Inquiries Act 2005 section 2 prevents an inquiry determining civil or criminal liability.

A Police investigation is on-going and this may lead to criminal charges though the actual decision to charge will be made by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Keeping abreast of developments:

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry website

Department for Communities and Local Government - Grenfell Tower

Justice 4 Grenfell

Parliament 1st August 2017 - Research Briefing - Grenfell Tower Fire: Response and tackling fire risk in high rise blocks - Following the fire at Grenfell Tower, this paper sets out the events and commentary around the fire, the relevant building regulations, fire safety laws and housing standards, the Government response to the fire, the responsibilities around re-housing, and previous concerns raised with fire regulations.

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