Grenfell Tower Inquiry moves to fully remote hearings for the first time
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry, hearings for which were suspended early prior to the scheduled Christmas break due to a member of staff testing positive for Covid-19, is to move to a fully virtual set-up for the first time since the pandemic began.
A statement published on the Inquiry’s website announced that this decision was made “in light of recent developments” including “the increase in transmissibility of the new variant” of the Coronavirus.
Phase 2 of the Inquiry has already faced substantial disruption due to the pandemic.
Proceedings were first suspended on 16 March 2020 following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement of the first national lockdown and did not resume until 6 July 2020. During the intervening period, three possible “way-forwards” in light of the continuing pandemic were considered:
- Moving to fully remote hearings;
- Moving to limited-attendance hearings; or
- Continuing with the suspension until full attendance could be resumed.
The Panel was, at that time, against moving to fully remote hearings. It decided to resume proceedings on a restricted in-person attendance basis, limited to the Inquiry Panel, Counsel to the Inquiry, witnesses and their legal representatives along with support staff critical to the operation of hearings. Whilst repeated assurances have been made by the Inquiry that it recognises “an integral part of [the Inquiry’s] process is for core participants and their legal representatives to be able to participate fully in examining the evidence, including suggesting lines of questioning that should be pursued” core participants and their legal representatives have been faced with the logistical and practical difficulties of attending the hearings remotely, streaming them live via the Inquiry website or YouTube, ever since.
A summer break was then observed between 31 July 2020 and 6 September 2020, meaning that hearings were paused again. When they resumed, it was on the same limited-attendance basis as before. This model continued during the second national lockdown in November 2020, however for this third lockdown the Inquiry has taken the view that it is now “unreasonable to ask witnesses and Inquiry team staff to travel into a particularly high-risk area to attend the Inquiry.” In its statement, the Inquiry explained that “the Panel has decided it is better to have remote hearings than no hearings at all while the current restrictions are in place, and wishes to emphasise that this is a temporary measure to be used only for as long as it is absolutely necessary.”
Having spent much of the last month making the necessary technical and logistical arrangements for this move, Module 2 hearings are now due to resume on 8 February 2021 with key personnel including witnesses attending via Zoom and all other attendees continuing to stream proceedings via the Inquiry website or YouTube.
Saunders Law is representing a number of core participants in the Inquiry including survivors, residents and bereaved family members.