The High Court has refused a legal challenge over the make-up of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry team less than 24 hours after it was lodged.
A group of ethnic minority lawyers, BMELawyers4Grenfell, yesterday lodged an emergency application for judicial review, challenging the prime minister’s failure to appoint an ethnically diverse panel of advisors and the inquiry’s limited terms of reference.
Deciding the matter on the papers, Mr Justice Jay today refused the application and refused permission for a further oral hearing of the matter. Jay’s order seen by Legal Voice, said: ‘There is no basis for pursuing JR proceedings against the Prime Minister. Any claim would have to be brought against the Inquiry. These proceedings are in any event premature. The claimant’s application for Core Participant status has not yet been determined. If refused, the Inquiry’ (sic) reasons for refusal will be relevant will be relevant to the issue of standing. The Inquiry has not yet determined the constitution of the panel. JR is not the correct mechanism for pre-empting due process.’
He added: ‘Requiring the Defendant to file an AoS [acknowledgement of service] within 24 hours and seeking a hearing by 13/9/17 is preemptory and high-handed.’
Peter Herbert, one of the claimants and the president of the Society of Black Lawyers told Legal Voice: ‘What we’re concerned about is a public inquiry that looks like and is perceived as a throwback to colonial days. In terms of representing an ethnically and religiously diverse community it is simply not good enough.’
Herbert said: ‘This is the first time that the black community has taken on the establishment in this way. We are not put off by the decision and we will come back in two or three months if we need to.’
He said the group has provided the inquiry with a list of people who could be involved, including cross-bench peer Lord Ouseley, barrister Courtenay Griffiths QC and architect Sir David Adjaye.
‘We want this inquiry to proceed to honour those who died and to make sure justice is done and seen to be done,’ he added.
The inquiry, which begins tomorrow, is chaired by former High Court judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, who is supported by a legal team comprising barristers Richard Millet QC, Bernard Richmond QC, Kate Grange QC and solicitor Caroline Featherstone, alongside the secretary to the inquiry, Mark Fisher.
The claimants, who also include Ismet Rawat, the president of the Association of Muslim Lawyers, and Ranjit Sond, the president of the Society of Asian Lawyers, argued it is essential that the inquiry team reflects the ethnic and religious diversity of the survivors in order for it to be fair and effective, and to gain the trust of those affected.
Yesterday a government spokesman told The Guardian: ‘The chairman of the inquiry has always been clear that he is considering appointing a diverse group of people to assist him whose experience extends to the occupation and management of social housing as well as other areas of expertise. The PM is also keeping under review the need for additional panel members. We therefore believe this action to be unwarranted.’
The chairman has also indicated that he will appoint a number of assessors to assist him and whose names, an inquiry spokeswoman said, will be announced in the ‘next few weeks’.
But the BMELawyers4Grenfell said that in the letter to the prime minister, sent by Moore-Bick in August, in which he wrote that he thought it likely that he would wish to appoint a diverse group of people whose experience extended to the occupation and management of social housing and other areas, he was referring to diversity of experience rather than ethnicity.
A statement from BMELawyers4Grenfell said: ‘We await the official launch of the inquiry and will continue to keep a keen eye on developments for and on behalf of the community. We will continue to hold this inquiry to account and will continue to press all concerned in the name of truth, transparency and justice for the victims, survivors, their families and the community.’
BMELawyers4Grenfell is an umbrella group comprising leading BME lawyers. It has applied to be a ‘core participant’ in the inquiry — that is an ‘individual, organisation or entity with a significant interest in an important aspect of the matters to which the Inquiry relates’, but that application has yet to be determined.
Core participant status enables a party to make an opening and closing statement at certain hearings, suggest lines of questioning to be pursued by counsel to the inquiry, and apply to the chairman to ask questions of a witness.
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