As the country’s National Human Rights Institution, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has today (11 December 2017) launched Following Grenfell, to look at the human rights and equality dimensions of the tragedy, and to determine if the State is fulfilling its duties under human rights and equality law.
Following Grenfell will focus on seven key areas.
The duty to investigate
The State has a duty to investigate incidents of deaths or inhumane and degrading treatment where they may be implicated, and ensure proper accountability. This project will examine how the State is investigating Grenfell and whether current arrangements meet its obligations.
The right to life
Following Grenfell will consider whether the State ensured the safety of the residents in Grenfell Tower and whether lessons have been learnt from previous reports.
Inhumane and degrading treatment
The harm suffered by those who survived or witnessed the Grenfell Tower fire may constitute ‘inhumane and degrading treatment’, and the experiences of those after the fire may have increased the harm they endured. The Commission will be exploring what immediate and longer-term support victims of such events can expect from the State, including medical treatment, counselling, care and housing.
The State had a duty to provide adequate and safe housing to the Grenfell Tower residents. This project will particularly focus on children, disabled and older people whose needs may not have been fully respected and understood within the fire regulations.
Access to justice
The project will consider whether victims have been able to access appropriate legal advice after the fire, but also question whether a lack of access to legal support may have affected residents’ ability to address complaints about the risk of fire at Grenfell Tower.
Rights of children
The Commission will also be examining the specific rights of children and whether they have received appropriate psychological support, housing and educational support since the fire.
The work will also explore whether there were any policies and practices in place that disadvantaged any particular groups, such as disabled people or the elderly, and if the State met the requirement of the Public Sector Equality Duty.
David Isaac, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said, "The Grenfell Tower fire has become a symbol of the inequality that exists in our country. Seventy-one people tragically lost their lives, as well as the many people who lost their homes, possessions, families and loved ones. The first duty of the State is to protect the lives of its citizens and lessons must be learnt to avoid this happening again.
"From the right to life to the duty to provide adequate housing, there are several areas where the State fell short in its duties to its citizens and these must be properly addressed. The official public inquiry is rightly looking at the building, fire and safety measures, property management and the events of the fire itself, but we believe our expertise in equality and human rights laws is essential in determining the extent to which the State failed, not only the residents of Grenfell Tower, but also those who witnessed the fire and have endured harm, physically or emotionally, as a result of it."
Following Grenfell will hear from a variety of people who can offer insight into the events at Grenfell Tower, with a specific focus on the equality and human rights implications. The Commission will also be making public submissions, and will offer commentary on the evidence heard by the Public Inquiry.
The work is expected to last until April 2018, with regular updates on its progress published on a dedicated webpage.
As Following Grenfell concludes, a summary of the findings will also be published, as well as recommendations to ensure similar tragedies do not occur in future.
The Justice 4 Grenfell (J4G) campaign welcomed the intervention of the Commission and released the following statement:
'J4G has consistently raised concerns that the State and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) have failed in their duties to protect life and provide safe housing.
In a press release on 15 August 2017, J4G made the following comments:
“It is disappointing that the question of social housing especially social cleansing/gentrification will not be addressed in the Inquiry as this remains a critical issue not just for the community of North Kensington but across the country and goes to the heart of a changing ideological approach to social housing and the pursuit of profit rather than provision of safe, affordable, appropriate and adequate housing”
The campaign’s application for Core Participation status has also like EHRC been refused along side many other communities, human rights and equality focused organisations. J4G’s application for core participation highlighted the different ways that the Inquiry needs to address State negligence of the communities in and around Grenfell. Issues of equality and human rights are paramount to the need for justice.
Given the appalling loss of life and suffering caused by the Grenfell Tower fire and the nationwide concern over the safety of tower blocks, J4G included in its core participation application that the following issues be included:
- The competence, ability and willingness of public authorities to oversee, regulate and ensure safe housing nationally;
- The competence, ability and willingness of public authorities to respond to large scale emergencies;
- How communities (including residents) are listened to, specifically whether there is an effective response when communities/residents raise concerns to public authorities, local authorities, statutory agencies and bodies about matters that impact upon them.
Clarrie Mendy, a bereaved family member, founder of Relative Justice for Grenfell & co-founder of Humanity 4 Grenfell added,
"To ignore human rights and additionally fundamentally refuse to listen to community voices who have lived/experienced in any Inquiry about Grenfell, is not only the height of disrespect to those who died but also an overt indication that the state and RBKC (Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea) don’t care."
She is also appealing to the government to adopt the charter for families bereaved through public tragedy as recommended by Bishop James Jones in his recent report The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power.
J4G suggests that ‘Institutional Indifference’, a term coined by survivor Joe Delaney, to define the state and local authority response to the Grenfell Tower atrocity, has been evident from 14 June – Or, put simply the term ‘Institutional Indifference’ implies that "they don’t want to find out what really happened, they don’t have to and more to the point, they don’t care!"
J4G will want to participate in the EHRC’s independent Inquiry but seek to be constructively critical and always remain independent and focused upon representing the collective concerns of the community.
Read more about Following Grenfell here
Read 'The patronising disposition of unaccountable power’ A report to ensure the pain and suffering of the Hillsborough families is not repeated here
* Justice 4 Grenfell https://justice4grenfell.org/