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The Equality and Human Rights Commission (the Commission) yesterday published a report summarising submissions it made to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry (the Inquiry) in January 2019. The Commission has concluded that local authorities and public services failed in their human rights obligations to protect life and provide safe housing.

In December 2017, the Commission launched Following Grenfell. The project’s aim and focus is to analyse the tragedy specifically through an equality and human rights framework and thereby both to assist the Inquiry in properly identifying and understanding the relevant human rights obligations and to educate the wider public about these aspects of the tragedy. To that end, the Commission has published research reports, legal submissions and briefing documents that are focused on seven main areas: (1) the duty to investigate; (2) the right to life; (3) inhuman and degrading treatment; (4) adequate housing; (5) access to justice; (6) the rights of children; (7) equality. 

Having conducted a thorough review of much of the evidence before the Inquiry, the Commission presented detailed submissions to the Inquiry in January 2019, at the close of the Inquiry’s Phase 1.  In these submissions, the Commission noted (amongst other matters) that the State had been presented with evidence that Grenfell Tower’s cladding was unsafe prior to the fire and despite this had failed to take action to prevent the loss of 72 lives.  The Commission also noted that the fire safety notice in the building was only provided in English, a language not spoken by many Grenfell residents.   The Commission concluded that in failing to ban, or restrict, the use of combustible cladding prior to the fire at Grenfell, and in failing to provide adequate safety information, the State violated the right to life (as protected by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights) of Grenfell Tower residents.  The UK Government has since banned the use of such cladding.  But as more than 300 high-rise buildings in the UK continue to be wrapped in the now banned material, the Commission has concluded that the UK is in continuing breach of Article 2.

The Commission also noted that the State had housed wheelchair users, elderly, disabled and other vulnerable persons on the top floors of the tower.  The Commission has concluded that in doing so, the State wrongly overlooked the safety of these residents and violated their right to adequate and safe housing (a right which is internationally recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights).

As a result of such conclusions (as well as further violations detailed in the submissions), the Commission has recommended that the State: (1) take further action to protect lives by immediately removing combustible cladding from the hundreds of buildings where that work remains outstanding; (2) implement training for firefighters on combatting cladding fires; (3) reconsider the application of, or alternatives to, the “stay put” policy for buildings with similar cladding combinations to Grenfell Tower, and implement firefighter training on this issue; (4) ensure that residents are provided with sufficient fire safety advice; (5) put in place additional protective measures to meet the needs of vulnerable persons, particularly in relation to evacuation policies and housing allocation; (6) improve the means for survivors, bereaved families and others affected by the fire to participate in the Inquiry.  The Commission has called for the Inquiry to address these issues immediately.

Jason Pobjoy and Isabel Buchanan acted for the Commission; they, Karon Monaghan QC, Michael Etienne and the Commission’s legal team drafted the submissions to the Inquiry.  Those submissions are available here, and the summary report published by the Commission is available here.