What is a public inquiry?

Public Inquiries are governed by the Inquiries Act 2005 and the Inquiries Rules 2006. Their purpose is to investigate and report on a matter of public concern.

A statutory inquiry, such as the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry, can only be established by a government Minister. The Minister sets out the terms of reference, defining the inquiry’s scope and the matters to which it relates. The Minister then appoints a Chair, usually a judge, who presides over proceedings.

The Chair is guided by the Inquiry Rules 2006, and has the power to do the following:

* Designate core participants to the inquiry

* Appoint legal representatives

* Request a written statement from any person from whom the inquiry proposes to take evidence

* Restrict access to certain disclosure documents

* Make arrangements for the publishing of reports and records management

* Make decisions about the payment of fees to legal representatives

Grenfell Tower Inquiry

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry will look specifically at the following areas or terms of reference and then report to the Prime Minister about its findings:

(a) the immediate cause or causes of the fire and the means by which it spread to the whole of the building;

(b) the design and construction of the building and the decisions relating to its modification, refurbishment and management;

(c) the scope and adequacy of building regulations, fire regulations and other legislation, guidance and industry practice relating to the design, construction, equipping and management of high-rise residential buildings;

(d) whether such regulations, legislation, guidance and industry practice were complied with in the case of Grenfell Tower and the fire safety measures adopted in relation to it;

(e) the arrangements made by the local authority or other responsible bodies for receiving and acting upon information either obtained from local residents or available from other sources (including information derived from fires in other buildings) relating to the risk of fire at Grenfell Tower, and the action taken in response to such information;

(f) the fire prevention and fire safety measures in place at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017;

(g) the response of the London Fire Brigade to the fire; and

(h) the response of central and local government in the days immediately following the fire.

Inquiry Process

The Inquiry is going to be dealt with in two phases. Phase 1 will begin on 21 May 2018 and will focus on the factual events of the night of 14 June 2017. It will consider the fire safety and prevention procedures in place at Grenfell Tower, where and how the fire started, the manner in which the fire spread, the evacuation of residents and the response of the emergency services. The Judge, Sir Moore-Bick, will make recommendations setting out his conclusions about how to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again in a high-rise residential building.

Phase 2 of the Inquiry will focus on the adequacy of the response by the emergency services, the appropriateness of the ‘stay put’ policy and the lessons that should be learned from the fire at Grenfell Tower. Sir Moore-Bick will again make recommendations about the emergency services should respond to fires in high-rise residential buildings in the future.

Potential Outcomes

An inquiry panel does not have the power to make any rulings about a person’s civil or criminal liability. It can, however, making findings of fact and set out who is considers is likely to be liable on the basis of the facts.

As the purpose of public inquiries is to restore public confidence, it is important that the inquiry panel are able to fully investigate the facts before making recommendations. As such, it is crucial that the outcome of the inquiry is not to punish anyone or to establish liability.