‘This should alarm everyone’: Social media rages as ex-Court of Appeal judge appointed to lead Grenfell Tower inquiry

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But legal Twitterati describes the hate as ‘absolutely senseless’

A commercial law expert who until recently sat as a Court of Appeal judge has been appointed to lead the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry — and people are not happy about it.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick, 70, is a tenant at London set 20 Essex Street, which he joined just after he completed pupillage in the early 1970s. Now a silk with more than 20 years judicial experience under his belt, he accepts appointments at chambers as an arbitrator.

Though an expert in shipping law, insurance and energy, it’s safe to say Moore-Bick was fairly unknown to the public, until today.

It has now been announced the Cambridge-educated silk will be leading the much-anticipated, and no doubt extremely important, public inquiry into this month’s Grenfell Tower fire.

While a public inquiry will likely be welcomed, the government’s choice of head has caused widespread concern. This, in a nutshell, is because of a controversial ruling Moore-Bick made in 2014, when he was vice-president of the Court of Appeal’s civil division.

The case — also heard before Lady Justice Black and Lord Justice Vos — centred on a dispute between Westminster City Council and a single mother with longstanding health problems (HIV positive, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and diabetic retinopathy). The tenant had until November 2012 lived in a four-bedroom house in Westminster, the rent of which had been covered by housing benefit. However she and her five children became homeless when her benefits were cut. The council, accepting it had a housing duty under the Housing Act 1996, rehoused the tenant, but some 50 miles away in Bletchley, near Milton Keynes.

Moore-Bick, and the other two judges, ruled Westminster had not breached its obligations by doing so. But in 2015 the Supreme Court swooped in and overruled his judgment. Lady Hale said:

There is little to suggest that serious consideration was given to the authority’s obligations before the decision was taken to offer the property in Bletchley… The review decision is based on the premise that, because of the general shortage of available housing in the borough, the authority could offer accommodation anywhere else, unless the applicant could show that it was necessary for her and her family to remain in Westminster. There was no indication of the accommodation available in Westminster and why that had not been offered to her. There was no indication of the accommodation available near to Westminster, or even in the whole of Greater London, and why that had not been offered to her. There was, indeed, no indication that the reviewing officer had recognised that, if it was not reasonably practicable to offer accommodation in Westminster, there was an obligation to offer it as close by as possible.

What’s become abundantly clear this morning is Moore-Bick’s involvement in the Westminster case has not been forgotten, and has very much impacted how his public inquiry appointment has been received. Here’s a selection of some of the many, many comments made:

The lawyers of Twitter have, however, reacted with far more optimism.

One family law silk said Moore-Bick is an “excellent judge”, and that the criticism thrown his way is “absolutely senseless”:

While Greg Callus, a barrister at 5RB, also heaped praise onto the “first-class judge”:

1KBW’s James Turner QC echoed Callus’ praise:

It’s significant too that legal affairs journalist and Legal Cheek contributor Joshua Rozenberg said he has “no problem” with Moore-Bick. Let’s see whether Moore-Bick manages to win the public round in the same way he already has the lawyers.


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