Grenfell inquiry judge defends record in housing cases
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The former judge leading the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire has said he doubts that it will be sufficiently broad to satisfy all survivors.
Sir Martin Moore-Bick, a former Court of Appeal judge, travelled to the site of the disaster in north Kensington in London yesterday morning, where he met some of those who had escaped the inferno.
“I've been asked to undertake this inquiry on the basis that it would be pretty well limited to the problems surrounding the start of the fire and its rapid development in order to make recommendations about how this sort of thing can be prevented in future,” the Press Association reported him as saying afterwards. “I'm well aware the residents and the local people want a much broader investigation and I can fully understand why they would want that - whether my inquiry is the right way in which to achieve that I'm more doubtful.”
Sir Martin continued: “I will give that some thought and in due course give a recommendation, but there may be other ways in which the desire for that investigation could be satisfied.”
The retired judge – who was vice-president of the civil division of the Court of Appeal for two years until last December – said he was “rather surprised to see myself described as controversial”. Shortly after his appointment was announced The Times raised a controversial case that Sir Martin heard in 2014, in which the Court of Appeal backed a decision by Westminster council in London to rehouse a homeless single mother 50 miles away in Milton Keynes. The Supreme Court overturned that ruling.
“The case is one of many that I have decided over my time as a judge,” Sir Martin said. “I have been a judge for over 20 years and, particularly in the Court of Appeal, one deals with an enormous range of work, much of which involves local government or central government. One simply reaches the conclusion that you think is right, applying the law as you see it, and that is the work of a judge. You can't pretend to get every case right, at least in the eyes of the Supreme Court.”
Some legal commentators suggested Sir Martin could face an uphill battle to keep victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster on side with his inquiry. “Many victims would doubtless have wanted someone who appeared to be more of a rottweiler investigator,” said one prominent lawyer, who added that it was surprising that the prime minister had not chosen a former judge who had experience of criminal or product liability cases.
Meanwhile, lawyers pressed ministers to confirm that victims of the Grenfell fire would be allowed to have the lawyer of their choice represent them at the inquiry.
Robert Bourns, the president of the Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, welcomed reassurances by the government that victims would be involved during the inquiry and said that should be extended to “decisions about appointing their representative for the inquiry”.
He said: “They must be free to choose an independent public advocate who has their full confidence and who they trust to amplify their voices and views as well as to ensure that those truly and ultimately responsible are found. An expert in housing law with a history of fighting for disadvantaged tenants would be well placed to fulfil this role, though the bereaved and injured may have other criteria that are equally important to them.”