News

‘Do they understand us?’ Grenfell victims’ lawyers attack inquiry for lack of diversity

By on
28

Black QC’s warning of ‘injustice’ goes viral

Leslie Thomas QC

Lawyers representing victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, in which 71 people were killed, have mounted a sustained attack on the perceived lack of ethnic diversity in the official inquiry into the disaster.

A chorus of leading human rights barristers told the inquiry’s chairman that a more diverse set of people should be appointed to help him run the probe.

Michael Mansfield QC — once rather bizarrely called the “Johnny Depp of the legal world” — told Sir Martin Moore-Bick that “the decision-making process cannot be left to one person.” He continued:

“It should be reflective of the community and, to some extent, the public at large for there to be at the end of the day confidence in the findings. You yourself cannot be expected to reflect the diversity in one person. No one person on earth could do that.”

Danny Friedman QC of Matrix Chambers backed Mansfield’s stance, saying that “extending the 20 diversity and inclusiveness of the panel… would have a paradigm-shifting positive consequence in terms of confidence”. Pete Weatherby QC of Garden Court Chambers and solicitor-advocate Kate Ellis of Imran Khan and Partners also piled in.

Grenfell Tower in West London

It would not have escaped anybody’s notice that all those lawyers, like the chairman, are white, whereas many of the people affected by the fire are from ethnic minorities. This point was picked up by Leslie Thomas QC. He told Moore-Bick: “Look at the lawyers. Look at the lawyers who represent predominantly, because of the way you’ve divided us, the corporate core participants.” The silk continued:

“Even to an extent, look at those of us who represent the victim core participants. Fairly homogenised group, wouldn’t you agree? Apart from the odd exception here and there. What must [the victims] be thinking in terms of: ‘Are we going to get justice? Do they understand us?'”

Querying whether the set-up would pass the “smell test” for victims, Thomas argued that victims would be asking:

“Do they understand us? Do they speak our language? Do they know anything about social housing? How many of them have lived in a tower block or on a council estate or in social housing? That affects confidence. Confidence or lack of it affects participation. And a lack of participation from the very people who matter will affect justice. And a lack of justice is injustice.”

A Channel 4 video capturing Thomas’s powerful submissions already has over 100,000 views on Facebook and 60,000 on Twitter. The top QC, joint head of chambers at leading human rights set Garden Court, has previously likened his advocacy style to Mike Tyson in the boxing ring.

The investigation, set up under the Inquiries Act 2005, is naturally enough a legalistic exercise. There were 23 counsel and solicitor teams present at yesterday’s hearing, with Moore-Bick having to apologise that there wasn’t enough space in the Holborn Bars function room to fit all the lawyers in.

Another Garden Court barrister representing victims, Allison Munroe, emphasised that “the actual legal process itself can be quite dehumanising and traumatising”, arguing that diversity in the inquiry is “central and important because it actually adds value to the inquiry. It adds value to the decision-making process. It adds value to the actual legal process.”

Moore-Bick doesn’t actually have the power to add anyone to run the inquiry with him. As the lawyers acknowledged, that’s down to the government using Inquiries Act powers — making this fundamentally a political rather than a legal row. Labour has already weighed in, calling for “a more diverse advisory panel to support the judge Moore-Bick”.

The inquiry continues today and is expected to put out an interim report by autumn 2018. By then inquiry lawyers under Richard Millett QC expect to review a whopping 270,000 documents at a rate of 20,000 a week.

For all the latest commercial awareness info, and advance notification of Legal Cheek's careers events:

Sign up to the Legal Cheek Hub

28 Comments

Bumblebee

“Michael Mansfield QC — once rather bizarrely called the ‘Johnny Depp of the legal world'”

Yes. That really is quite bizarre. It’s akin to calling Lady Hale “the Be-…” oh wait.

(49)(0)

Anonymous

Yes, facts are subjective

(36)(2)

Trumpenkrieg

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I entirely agree. In fact, I think that every court case should be heard by a panel including woman, a gay man, a gay women, trans-gendered people, a black person, an Asian person, a Hispanic person, an Inuit, a single parent, a pensioner and a goat just to be safe.

Only then can true justice be observed and achieved.

(51)(20)

Corbyn. Symphathiser

Not sure that “This inquiry should have more diversity among the people in the probe” is semantically the same as “OH YOU THINK GOATS SHOULD BE JURY MEMBERS NOW??”.

(12)(31)

Anonymous

Pipe down, CUCKOLD. SYMPATHISER, you dirty imposter.

(17)(1)

Trumpenkrieg

“Cuckhold. Sympathiser”

I like it. It’s staying.

(5)(4)

Anonymous

That depends. If a panel hearing a case to which you were a party were to be representative, it would need to consist solely of bigots, with an IQ of 70-79, and a complete lack of engagement with modern reality. I’d prefer my chances with a goat.

(21)(6)

Charlotte

I shat my big girl knickers laughing at this.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Surely the point of the inquiry is to establish the facts of how this tragedy occurred. How exactly does the ethnicity or social background of those conducting the inquiry impact positively or negatively on that process? This just looks like political grandstanding.

(52)(9)

Anonymous

It shouldn’t just be looking at “how”, it needs also to be looking at “why” it happened. For example, why did the local authority favour cladding the block at all? That decision taken, why did it choose a cheaper but more flammable form of cladding than the alternative? Why were there no sprinklers?

The context of this includes such further remarkable features as the chair of the housing committee of the local authority in charge of this disaster having said, without apparent shame or embarrassment, that she had never been in a flat in a tower block.

Moreover, the issue can’t sensibly be restricted to the quality of the decision making. It needs to carry with it the confidence of the people affected if it is to have any purpose. While they are of the highest quality as people and lawyers, neither the judge nor counsel to the inquiry have ever known what it is like not to be listened to, or to have been at the bottom of the social pecking order, to have poor or no real educational opportunities, to be paid below minimum wage, to have no enforceable employment rights, in short to have everything against them. A few non white faces might give the people affected a bit of confidence that those deliberating have a bit of real insight or empathy with them. That’s all.

(5)(7)

Anonymous

The cladding was fixed to the outside because it (a) provided improved insulation for the tower block and (b) was more aesthetically pleasing than bare concrete. By improving the building insulation, less fuel is required to provide heating and hot water. Less fuel means lower CO2 emissions, which means the local authority moves towards its carbon footprint reduction target. Its easier, and less intrusive to provide retrospective insulation by insulating the outside of a building, where insulating the outside of a building is possible, i.e. no Grade I or II listing. Insulating the outside retrospectively also means that a thicker layer of insulation can be added compared to retrospectively insulating the inside. Reduction in carbon footprint is driven by EU Regulation and International agreement. I’m not blaming the EU, I’m simply pointing out that the local authority acted to meet their obligations, and countless other local authorities have done the same.
Selection of the main and subcontractors to undertake the cladding work, and indeed, the cladding material are all subject to an official tender process, again driven by EU Regulation. Again, for clarity, I’m not blaming the EU. The cladding material selected, would have to have Buildings Regulations approval, be fit for purpose, and have appropriate fire safety certification. All questions that would be asked at the time of tender. The issue of fitting or not fitting sprinklers is a judgement based on what other fire safety precautions were in place, as indeed are the number and type of fire appliances operated by the London Fire Brigade. The inquiry will want to focus on these areas to determine facts, and when it has the facts, it will draw conclusions, and make recommendations.
Sorry, I don’t see how the ethnicity of the inquiry team has any relevance on the work they are doing, the conclusions and recommendations that they will make, or their ability to empathise with the victims, their friends and families.

(14)(2)

Trumpenkrieg

Wow, just wow. Listen to your entrenched white privilege.. trying to shut down POC with “facts” and “reason” (all white supremacist colonial constructs). You need sensitivity training, my friend.

(12)(2)

Anonymous

TMC rep in the house.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Perhaps it should be lawyers who grew up or live in the affected area, regardless of race, etc.

(16)(6)

Janet Bowman

Or perhaps Wilfred Grenfell himself should speak from his writing or the legacy of land for trust and decree of fairness.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Leslie Thomas QC: “Even to an extent, look at those of us who represent the victim core participants. Fairly homogenised group, wouldn’t you agree? Apart from the odd exception here and there. What must [the victims] be thinking in terms of: ‘Are we going to get justice? Do they understand us?’”

Oh? So your clients are racists, who think that the colour of someone’s skin affects their ability to understand this tragedy?

Interesting admission…

(48)(8)

Anonymous

I take it then that, according to Leslie Thomas QC, the next time Tommy Robinson is arrested and charged, he can demand an all white jury?

(5)(0)

Philip Horatio (Philatio for short)

Nope.

Not where there’s entrenched privilege.

It only works one way as privilege only works one way.

(1)(1)

Not Amused

“they”?
“us”?

Divisive isn’t it this identity politics nonsense.

If you want to fight racism then fight nonsense like this.

(32)(4)

Anonymous

He could at least have straightened his tie! Only then can he be taken serious.

(6)(1)

Anonymous

wait what do you mean by that?

(1)(0)

ALawyer

Personally I prefer to look at the contents of someone’s character not the colour of their skin, social class or background. To make assumptions based on arbitrary characteristics and circumstances is foolish, why is why racism and segregation were and are stupid. Just because someone is white does not mean they understand so called black issues and because someone is black does not mean they do either and vice versa. Similarly, just because someone is a lawyer or a judge does not mean they do not nor could understand or have experienced deprivation or poverty. Finally, even if someone has not experienced a particular circumstance does not mean they cannot understand nor should judge it to rule otherwise would mean our magistrates would need to be former drug dealers, robbers etc.

(22)(1)

Anonymous

What a load of nonsense. The whole thing is being hijacked for political purposes. It’s all about technical building and safety standards and construction, not race.

(21)(1)

Charlotte Proudman

This is about me.

(11)(0)

Anonymous

A “leading” chambers, but not “top”?

Damning review by Legal Cheek.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

This is the sir Peter Smith phenomenon isn’t it ?

There is a commercial silk from a dynastic legal family – Millet Qc – reviewing 20000 documents a week to delay and confuse matters. – Because there’s probably less than 100 material documents – and even the daily mail located the consultant who signed off the smoking gun report with the idea that it wasnt compulsory to consult the fire service about the cladding material.

Faced with all those document bundles and document readers, military fashion, but the need only to read the consultant’ s report and the associated emails instructing him and formal decisions made after him – to understand what happened – with another commercial silk now Judge in front of you, legitimizing all this, you can sense that the fix is in.

So you try and get rid of your Judge and the fix with him.

They are all at it, with standing room only, even the solicitor advocate.

It is reminiscent of how corporations’ lawyers must have felt when they saw Peter Smith in front of them.

No wonder the civil service did not want Peter Smith to get a public hearing and let the cat out of the bag !

Turn it into a vote winning issue for labour which threatens the Tories in london…brilliant. Let’s see the next move.

(3)(2)

Anonymous

Ditto …

(1)(0)

Comments are closed.

Related Stories