19:08, September 11 46 0 theguardian.com

2017-09-11 19:08:03
Lawyers seek judicial review against PM over Grenfell inquiry panel

Emergency legal proceedings have been lodged against the prime minister in the high court over the lack of ethnic and religious diversity on the panel of the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry, which begins on Thursday.

BMELawyers4Grenfell are seeking urgent permission for a judicial review over Theresa May’s alleged failure to ensure the panel reflects the backgrounds of the victims and survivors.

They are hoping to secure a declaration from a high court judge that the prime minister is in breach of an undertaking she made to the inquiry chair, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, on 15 August, relating to the composition of the panel.

The lawyers say they are raising concerns communicated to them by Grenfell survivors, relatives and local residents that the panel is failing to reflect the religious and ethnic diversity of the victims.

They add that if the prime minister fails to ensure that the panel is diverse it will weaken the support and confidence of victims, survivors and the bereaved in the inquiry and could undermine its findings and recommendations.

One resident, who witnessed the fire and lost people close to her, welcomed the legal challenge. “This issue is about race and religion, but it is also about class,” she said.

“The people in charge of the inquiry ... are for the most part white and privileged. They don’t understand our realities because they’re not connected to them.

“Before the fire happened, we were ignored and not respected as individuals. Now I believe that the same thing is happening with the inquiry ... The main issue here is a lack of trust. If the panel don’t understand us, they’re not going to ask the right questions.”

Peter Herbert, of BMELawyers4Grenfell, said: “This is a key moment in British legal history. Black and minority communities have never before mounted a judicial review against any prime minister. But it’s essential that we do so now because we have never before had a disaster on this scale that has impacted so greatly on BME communities. We believe that it’s far more effective to take this action now than to go ahead with a flawed inquiry.”

The lawyers bringing the challenge say it is vital that black and minority ethnic experts are part of all stages of the inquiry and argue that, unless the inquiry panel includes experts from BME backgrounds, it will not be fair and balanced.

The claimants include the chair of the Society of Black Lawyers, the president of the Society of Asian Lawyers and Ismet Rawat, the president of the Association of Muslim Lawyers.

Rawat, co-founder of BMELawyers4Grenfell, said: “The fire in the Grenfell tower block is one of the worst collective losses of life seen in UK peace time, and yet three months later, we still have survivors displaced and homeless, with countless others psychologically scarred and under-supported by local authorities. It is therefore critical that the inquiry is established robustly.”

A government spokesman said: “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.”