Studio E Architects has asked for immunity from prosecution relating to evidence given at the Grenfell Inquiry so it cannot be used against it in other legal proceedings
Inquiry chairman Martin Moore-Bick was forced to pause the inquiry this morning (29 January) after the shock move by lawyers acting for a number of witnesses, including the architects, façade installer Harley, certain employees or ex-employees of Rydon, and the tenant management organisation.
He told the inquiry he was ‘surprised’ to learn that a number of core participants were likely to claim the privilege against self-incrimination as grounds for refusing to answer questions when they start being called next week.
If they were given immunity, it would potentially free them up to speak more candidly at the inquiry.
It would be up to Moore-Bick to decide whether he agreed to this. He would then have to approach the attorney general to get a suitable undertaking.
The revelations drew gasps from those in the room.
Moore-Bick said: ‘I’ve been very recently advised that when they give evidence, which will of course start next week, many of the witnesses who were involved in the design and choice of material are likely to claim privilege against self-incrimination as a reason for not answering questions.’
The chair explained that the privilege was a rule of law that ‘protects a person from being required to answer questions if to do so truthfully might expose [them] to a risk of prosecution’.
He added: ‘What they are asking me to do is to apply to the attorney general for an undertaking that nothing said by a witness in answers to questions in the inquiry will be used in furtherance of a prosecution against them, thereby giving them complete freedom to tell the truth without any concern for the future.’
Addressing the public and Grenfell survivors sat in the inquiry room, Moore-Bick concluded: ‘This information has come to you, as to me, as something of a surprise. I suspect you find it a little difficult to understand exactly what the import is of what I’ve just told you. I’ll rise now to get some preliminary reactions.’
Extracts from the application
Since the conclusion of the Phase 1 hearings many witnesses to be called in Phase 2 have been interviewed, or invited to attend an interview, under caution by the Metropolitan Police (and some may be re-interviewed during the course of the second part of the inquiry) as the criminal investigation into the fire at Grenfell Tower continues in parallel with your investigations. The nature of the police investigation is very broad in scope and is concerned with numerous potential offences, ranging from regulatory breaches to the most serious of criminal offences, all of which carry potential custodial sentences.
In furtherance of the primary purpose of the public inquiry – namely to fully examine the matters set out within the terms of reference and the table of issues – we collectively write to request that you seek an undertaking from the attorney general preventing the use of evidence given by witnesses to the public inquiry against them in any future criminal proceedings.
Plainly, without such an undertaking, witnesses will be lawfully and reasonably entitled to rely on the privilege against self-incrimination and to refuse to answer any question if to do so would tend to expose them to proceedings for a criminal offence.