27/11/2013

Lawyer for Richard III’s descendants says challenge to Leicester reburial “could now drag on beyond next August”

Click here for coverage of the article in the Guardian

The lawyer spearheading the attempt to overturn Government permission for Richard III’s remains to be reburied in Leicester has said the matter “could now drag on beyond next August.”

Matthew Howarth, partner and judicial review expert at Yorkshire law firm Gordons, was commenting on yesterday’s adjournment of a planned full judicial review hearing at the High Court in London. This involved his client the Plantagenet Alliance, a group of Richard III’s collateral descendants who want the king’s remains to be reinterred in York.

The hearing was set to examine the alliance’s challenge to processes surrounding the Ministry of Justice’s decision to grant a “section 25 licence” under the Burial Act to the University of Leicester. The licence authorised that institution to remove the king’s remains from beneath a council car park in the city during the autumn of 2012 and reinter them. The university subsequently announced it intended the reburial would take place in Leicester Cathedral.

Had yesterday’s hearing progressed, the alliance’s lawyers would have argued, among other things, the ministry failed to consult sufficiently or take into account the wishes of the king’s descendants and the monarch’s own preferences, if they can be determined, when issuing the  licence. They would also have maintained such a failure was unlawful and constituted a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, covering the right to respect for private and family life.

The hearing was adjourned after the three judges present granted the alliance’s application for Leicester City Council – which had become an interested party in the case only three weeks earlier – to be made a defendant, alongside the university and the ministry. The change means, among other implications, that the council may now be liable for costs, if the verdict ultimately favours the alliance.

Mr Howarth said: “We invited the council to join as a defendant before yesterday’s hearing, but they refused. It’s a shame the judges had to force them to adopt this status, as the compulsion made the adjournment unavoidable. This outcome means many people who had travelled to London anticipating a full hearing effectively had their often long and expensive journeys wasted.

“The local authority’s failure to accept the inevitable voluntarily will also mean additional expense, including for the Ministry of Justice and the taxpayer. We will certainly be seeking the costs of making yesterday’s application from the council.”

Mr Howarth said the council’s recent participation in the case had also revealed an interesting schism between two of the defendants. He said the local authority had last week disclosed documents in which it claimed the right to dispose of the remains, as they were found on its property, an assertion the university disputes.

Permission for the judicial review hearing was granted at the High Court in August by Mr Justice Haddon-Cave, who said the alliance’s case “self-evidently raises matters of general public importance” and therefore deserved to be heard. He also suggested, however, that the parties put the matter to an independent expert panel for adjudication instead, but the ministry and university later refused to do this, despite the alliance agreeing.

Mr Howarth said: “The documents provided by the council last week also showed it had previously intended embarking on a consultation exercise over the king’s final resting place and then dropped the idea. However, following yesterday’s adjournment, it has again offered a consultation, and although this is a proposal which has yet to be fully explored, it represents a U-turn on the defendants’ side which we welcome.

“We’ve never understood why our opponents have insisted on fighting this case against an organisation with no resources, incurring substantial legal costs and court time.

“Our hope is therefore that the other defendants will now use the breathing space allowed by yesterday’s adjournment to reconsider their positions on the way forward too. If they maintain their current stances, the hearing will probably resume in the new year and the matter could now drag on beyond next August.”

More details of the campaign to have King Richard III’s remains buried in York can be found at http://kingrichardcampaign.org.uk/