The Grenfell Inquiry: Justice or Just for Show?

What’s Going On Here?

One year on from the fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower on 14th June 2017, the public inquiry into the tragedy is in the midst of its first stage.

 

What Does This Mean?

The public inquiry into the fire that killed 72 people is underway and is currently hearing evidence from the victims. It officially opened on 14th September 2017 after Prime Minister Theresa May called for its creation a mere day after the fire. The aim of the inquiry is to find out what caused the fire, how it was allowed to happen, and how it can be stopped from happening again. Once these factors have been assessed a report will be made to the government and subsequently the public at large. As it is only an inquiry it cannot assign legal blame, unlike an inquest, however this could serve as a starting point upon which further action can be taken at a later stage. It is expected the inquiry will run into 2020.

 

Why Should Firms Care?

Apart from its general national importance, the findings of the inquiry are likely to inform how corporate manslaughter charges will play out in real life situations. Corporate manslaughter is a relatively new offence in English law, having only been introduced in 2008. This charge is notoriously difficult to prove as it has to be shown that the whole organisation (in this case, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation) are responsible rather than individuals. Traditionally, there has been a reluctance surrounding these charges, as the prolonged inquests into Hillsborough disaster show, however this may change in light of Grenfell. The police have explicitly stated they are considering such charges against the council and management organisation, as well as targeting senior officers in the fire brigade for the “stay put” policy that told Grenfell residents to stay in their homes while the fire spread. As such, the inquiry’s final findings, and the legal consequences that will or will not follow, will be crucial in the interpretation of manslaughter charges.

On the question of justice, some cynics have suggested that the inquiry lacks teeth and point to the appointment of retired High Court judge Sir Martin Moore-Brick to show how politicised the inquiry is. However, concerns over Sir Martin’s appointment have been somewhat allayed by the addition of two community-nominated members to the inquiry who will help contextualise the findings. In terms of meaningful change, the government has recently pledged a minimum of £400 million to replace inefficient cladding, a primary cause of the fire, in other residential towers to stop a repeat of the fire. Ultimately, the inquiry is in its infancy; only time will tell how effective it really is. 

 

Article written by Connor B.

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