THE NEW WORKER

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 15th December 2017


Human rights body to launch Grenfell fire inquiry

THE EQUALITY and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is set to launch its own inquiry into whether the Government and/or Kensington and Chelsea Council local council failed in their duty to protect life and provide safe housing in respect of the fire in the Grenfell tower block last June, which cost at least 70 lives.

The EHRC was established in 2006 and took over the roles of the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission. It is supposed to promote and enforce laws on equality and non-discrimination in England, Scotland and Wales. It also has responsibility for other aspects of equality law: age, sexual orientation, and religion or belief.

But, like most Government-funded bodies, it is seriously underfunded.

The intervention by the EHRC, which has the potential to draw damning conclusions about the role of the state, could foreshadow the official inquiry, ordered by Theresa May and chaired by retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, 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 that the EHRC, whose application to become a core participant in the official inquiry was rejected, had decided to launch its own inquiry amidst concerns that key questions — including the extent to which the state has “a duty to protect its citizens” — were being neglected.

He acknowledged that the move might be seen as “controversial” in some quarters but defended the commission’s decision to become involved.

With four out of five families still seeking new homes, local people have no confidence in Kensington and Chelsea council or the public inquiry.

overlooked

“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 Grenfell Tower 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.”

He recalled his reaction to the tragic events of 14 June: “Like everybody else, it was shock, horror, distress. I think it was a national moment that defined how certain parts of society experience the state’s public provision of housing and also how the state responds.

“We need to learn from what’s happened with Grenfell, look at it in the context of our human rights obligations, and think about how we can improve. There are loads of lessons to be learned.”

Last week it emerged that four out of every five 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 law. At a time when some want the act scrapped, the inquiry’s actions could be viewed as provocative.

“Human rights are for everybody,” Isaac said. “This is political and I know there is a view among some politicians, but also among society more generally, that human rights only protect extremists and terrorists but that isn’t the case at all. I always talk about Hillsborough as a really good example of where the Human Rights Act and the human rights lens has been used effectively to ensure justice prevailed.”

Meanwhile the Metropolitan Police Force, which is conducting its own separate inquiry, last week informed the public inquiry into the fire that it is considering multiple criminal charges of offences including manslaughter, corporate manslaughter, misconduct in public office and breaches of fire safety legislation.