The prime minister has ruled out the appointment of extra panel members to the Grenfel Inquiry, saying she is “very conscious” of the need for an initial report as quickly as reasonably possible.
In a letter, Theresa May tells inquiry chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick she believes he has the necessary expertise on hand.
“I therefore consider that additional panel members should not be appointed at this stage,” she says.
In September, the PM was warned of a legal challenge to any perceived failure to abide by clauses in the 2005 Inquiries act requiring her to announce membership of the panel advising the inquiry.
Sir Martin Moore-Bick had proposed appointing people whose experience extends to occupation and management of social housing and the administration of local government, as well as matters of a more technical scientific nature.
There was no reference to panel members who reflect the religious and racial diversity of those who died in, or survived, the fire.
Under the Equality Act 2010 – the public sector equality duty –the PM is required to have “due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it”.
In this context, lawyers argued that, given the background of a large number of the victims, this duty could only be met by appointing an ethnically and religiously diverse panel with the relevant expertise to assist the chair and ensure public trust and confidence in the inquiry.
May writes that, having regard to the assistance that may be provided by those assessors, and the terms of reference which it is the inquiry’s role to deliver, she believes the inquiry has the necessary expertise to undertake its work.
She writes: “I am also very conscious of the need for the inquiry to complete its initial report as quickly as reasonably possible.
“I therefore consider that additional panel members should not be appointed at this stage.
“In reaching this conclusion, I have had regard to the public sector equality duty as set out in Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010.”
May does acknowledge the inquiry as “gathering evidence from those most affected” by the disaster so “they are given a chance to share their experience.”
It is, she says, of “paramount importance” that the inquiry provides an opportunity for the bereaved, survivors, and the community to be heard and for lessons to be learnt from their views and experiences.
As such, sir Martin is encouraged in the letter to “continue working with the community affected by the fire and to consider a full range of options to foster closer engagement in the future.”
It is proposed the inquiry has advisory panel made up of those affected by the fire – similar to that established by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse to provide advice and guidance to the chair.
May says the establishment of such a panel – in consultation with the Grenfell Tower community – could play a “ very beneficial role” in putting those most affected at the heart of the Inquiry.
The letter ends with May re-emphasising the importance of the inquiry completing its initial report as “quickly as reasonably possible”.