Welcome to your Lawyer Portal weekly news summary. This post will cover the legal news stories from 19th – 25th June. This week the Grenfell Tower tragedy sparks discussions about its possible legal consequences, a father from the Isle of Wight loses his legal battle over his daughter’s absence from school and the Supreme Court releases a guidebook for bears.
The Grenfell Tower fire may give rise to an unprecedented number of civil and criminal claims. In the early hours of 14th June 2017, a fire spread through a residential tower block in North Kensington. The blaze was caused by a faulty fridge-freezer and had spread throughout the 24 floors in less than 15 minutes. Thirty residents were confirmed dead with many others still unaccounted for.
In the aftermath, hundreds of survivors lost their homes and the residents of several other tower blocks in areas such as Camden were evacuated last week due to safety fears.
Following the Grenfell tragedy, Prime Minister, Theresa May, ordered a public inquiry, which could take years. However, many have called for an inquest to be held by a coroner instead. This would ensure the investigation is more independent. Nonetheless, a public inquiry is tightly controlled by the Inquiries Act 2005 which seeks to ensure that it is conducted independently and chaired by a senior judge.
The biggest debate has revolved around a potential criminal investigation into allegations of corporate manslaughter. Corporate manslaughter has been notoriously difficult to prove, however the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 has made it easier to prove the offence against an organisation without needing to identify a single “controlling mind”. The more pressing question is which organisation is potentially guilty of this crime. The possible candidates would be the Kensington and Chelsea local authority, the building’s management company, and the contractors and sub-contractors involved in the refurbishment who installed the flammable insulation and cladding. The difficulty will lie in pinpointing the liability as all the above parties are highly likely to deny exclusive culpability. The punishment for corporate manslaughter is essentially naming and shaming the guilty organisation as well as unlimited fines and remediation orders.
There also may be various civil claims arising out of the fire, including claims for breach of contract, insurance claims and building regulation disputes. These claims may involve individuals suing organisations, but also the organisations concerned suing each other. For instance, the local authority may seek to argue that the building management company breached its obligations to maintain fire safety standards. There might also be claims in tort, particularly for negligence or breach of statutory duty (under health and safety laws), against individuals or corporate bodies, brought by the victims or their estates, or by former tenants.
There have also been several complaints about how the media have covered the disaster with most complaints relating to the privacy and harassment clauses of the Editors’ Code,
Countless lawyers have offered free legal advice and representation to tenants and the Grenfell Action Group. Ultimately, it remains to be seen how the law will give justice to the victims and determine those responsible.
A father’s legal battle over his daughter’s term-time holiday ends in failure. In April Jon Platt lost his appeal to the Supreme Court and on Friday the Isle of Wight magistrates’ court found him guilty of failing to secure his daughter’s regular attendance at school. The Supreme Court had overturned previous rulings in favour of Mr. Platt by the original magistrates court and the High Court, and decided that “regular attendance” meant “in accordance with the school’s rules”.
Lawyers for Mr. Platt had argued that his daughter’s attendance was still over 90 per cent even including her absence for the holiday and there was no evidence as to what the school’s rules were. However, lawyers for the Isle of Wight council said the school was not required to make sure that every letter sent home was read, and that the council’s code of conduct made it plain that a penalty notice could be issued for a term-time holiday.
The Isle of Wight council has spent £140,000 of public money appealing the case. Ultimately Mr. Platt was given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £2,000 costs and a £20 surcharge. Mr. Platt said he had spent close to £30,000 on fighting the case, with additional funds covered by legal aid. He said the case would have implications for parents around the country.
There is now a Supreme Court guidebook for bears. The picture book was illustrated by court artist, Isobel Williams, while the foreword was written by the Supreme Court’s very own Lord Neuberger.
The main characters of the book are two teddies which visitors can purchase in the court’s gift shop. Isobel Williams has described the unofficial book as “a love-letter to a building and all its makers”. The book covers everything from the court’s function and the common misconceptions to interesting facts such as a discussion of the carpet.
Despite the overall light-heartedness of the book, it comes with an important message. The final page reads: “Not all bears are lucky enough to occupy a court. If you would like to support bears… please look for a reputable charity which helps us, and avoid products or entertainments which exploit us. Thank you.”
The book can be purchased at the Supreme Court’s shop, or from Wildy & Sons.
Words: Mariya Rankin
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