Human rights commission to launch its own Grenfell fire inquiry
From The Guardian: Britain’s human rights watchdog is to launch an inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire that will examine whether the Tory government and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea failed in their duties to protect life and provide safe housing.
The dramatic intervention by the independent Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has the potential to draw damning conclusions about the role of the state, could foreshadow the official inquiry, which has been criticised for excluding social housing policy from its remit. The commission’s recommendations are due to be published in April, considerably earlier than the official inquiry’s full findings.
The commission’s chair, David Isaac, said the EHRC, whose application to become a core participant in the official inquiry was rejected, had decided to launch its own inquiry amid concerns that key questions – including the extent to which the state has “a duty to protect its citizens”– were being neglected. While acknowledging that the move might be seen as “controversial” in some quarters, he defended the commission’s decision to become involved.
“We are the UK’s national human rights body and we have a statutory duty to promote equality and human rights,” Isaac said in an interview with the Observer. “We think the human rights dimension to #GrenfellTower is absolutely fundamental and is currently overlooked. Grenfell for most people in this country, particularly in the way the government has reacted, is a pretty defining moment in terms of how inequality is perceived.”
Last week it emerged that four out of every five families who were made homeless in the fire are still looking for new housing, with almost half of them likely to spend Christmas in emergency accommodation.
The EHRC inquiry, which will involve a panel of legal experts, will pay particular attention to the UK’s obligations to the tower’s residents under the Human Rights Act and international law.
The move threatens to put the commission on a collision course with the government over a range of contentious issues. Its inquiry will examine how the state discharges its investigative obligations following an event such as the Grenfell fire and whether the current arrangements, including the public inquiry, are satisfactory. It will look at the extent to which various state bodies discharged their duty to protect life and whether the survivors of the fire and those who witnessed it, or were otherwise affected by it, may have suffered harm that constitutes “inhuman and degrading treatment”.
It will also examine whether the housing provided for the tower’s residents by the state was adequate and safe as defined by human rights law; whether adequate legal advice was provided before and after the fire and whether certain groups – disabled people, children and migrants who experienced the fire – were subject to discrimination.