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The Great British Public – A Good Judge?

For those of you following the Grenfell Tower inquiry, you may have noticed an about-face by the Government about who presides over it.

The retired Lord Justice of Appeal, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, was appointed as the Chairman, but he now seems not to be able to undertake the role alone.

After initially opposing the introduction of other panel members alongside the Chairman, the Prime Minister has recently changed her position and has indicated that two panel members will be appointed to examine the cultural and community reasons behind the fire.

It is fair to say that this has been a direct result of pressure applied by survivors and the families of the victims, together with local community groups, a petition signed by over 156,000 people and other self-appointed interested parties connected with the disaster.

Whilst it is cornerstone of the judicial system in this country that the citizen is heavily involved, from jurors to lay magistrates to councillors, they all operate in a system which is designed to be fair and transparent and in which decisions are reached through an assessment of the relevant evidence.

Whilst the appointment of the two panel members to the inquiry could be seen as relatively innocuous, it could be seen as the start of a “slippery slope” regarding the involvement in inquires, hearings and similar, where political pressure forces changes to well-established processes, whether it be a public inquiry into a disaster or a Local Authority Committee deciding on a Premises Licence.

We have to guard very carefully against the unwarranted intrusion of those with their own agenda, despite how noble or well-intentioned they are. It should not interfere with the correct and proportionate assessment of evidence leading to a just and fair conclusion/decision.

When a Senior Appeal Court Judge of 20 years’ experience is deemed by community groups not to be able to call and martial, as well as assess, evidence, and reach findings without “interested” persons being involved, then in my view it sets a dangerous precedent for any hearing dealing with emotive issues, whether they are the deaths of 71 people or the grant of a licence in an area which is already crowded with licensed premises.

Opinions and viewpoints are always welcome in the process, but they must always be considered as submissions to be considered by the Court, hearing, tribunal or committee. It is a dangerous step when those that have a vested interest suddenly become the judges themselves.