Mon, 18 Mar 2019
On 14 June 2017, a catastrophic fire swept through Grenfell Tower, in the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea ("RBKC”). The fire claimed the lives of 72 people, traumatised and rendered homeless scores of others, who remain deeply affected by what happened.
In May 2018, a public inquiry, chaired by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, opened with compelling tributes to those who had died, from the bereaved, survivors and relatives. Over the following months, the inquiry heard their evidence, that of the RBKC, the London Fire Brigade and the many other Core Participants and witnesses, as it examined the causes of the fire and the events around that fateful night in painstaking detail.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has now published both its research into Grenfell residents' access to services and support and its legal submissions to the Inquiry on the human rights implications of the fire. The Commission has also invited the Chairman to make a number of recommendations, including urgent recommendations to prevent a repetition of the fire.
The research report, produced together with Race on the Agenda, shows the difficulties residents have faced in accessing advice and support services such as housing, immigration, welfare support and healthcare.
The legal submissions were highly critical of what it identifies as failures to safeguard the right to life of the residents, as required by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights but also potentially read together with Article 14 ECHR – rights which are recognised in a number of international law instruments. Prominent among the failings was the adoption of highly combustible cladding which, it is said, the state knew or ought to have known posed a real and immediate risk to life. It is also argued that the state culpably failed to maintain an effective regulatory regime or properly to inform residents of the risks they faced and what might be done to mitigate them. The Commission also concludes that those breaches are ongoing, since combustible cladding remains in use as does the operation of a defective regulatory regime.
For similar reasons, the submissions identify failings by the state to discharge a number of its obligations under the Equality Act 2010. These are said to include the duty to make reasonable adjustments for residents with disabilities. The Inquiry heard, a number of residents with disabilities were housed on the higher floors of the Tower, despite having disabilities that made it predictably difficult for them to escape the Tower in an emergency. That risk was said to be all the greater if, as happened on the night, the Tower’s fire lift broke down. The Commission also highlights evidence which it argues demonstrates that no or no effective emergency contingency plans were in place for these particularly vulnerable residents. The Commission also identified that a disproportionate number of the Tower’s residents from Black and other minority backgrounds were accommodated on the higher floors and that some residents with English as a second language had difficulties understanding safety notices, which had only been produced in English. The Commission argues that these factors also engage the Public Sector Equality Duty.
The Chairman’s report, following the conclusion of Phase 1, is currently awaited.
Michael Etienne, a Third Six Pupil in the Public Law team at No5 Barristers’ Chambers, contributed to the legal submissions, as a member of the Commission’s external legal team. That team was lead by Karon Monaghan QC, instructed by Elizabeth Prochaska, the Commission’s Legal Director. The materials referred to above form part of the Commission’s project Following Grenfell. More information about that project, a summary of the legal submissions to the Inquiry and the findings of the research project can be found here.
The legal submissions can be found in full here
Further information about the Grenfell Tower Inquiry can be found here