May 23, 2014

Richard III’s remains to stay in Leicester

The lawyer who spearheaded the unsuccessful bid to have Government permission for Richard III’s remains to be reburied in Leicester overturned has said the verdict is “highly regrettable”.

Matthew Howarth, partner at Yorkshire law firm Gordons, was commenting on the decision announced today of three judges who sat at a full judicial review hearing in London’s High Court, which concluded in March, that the authorisation should be allowed to stand.

Mr Howarth represented the Plantagenet Alliance, a group of Richard III’s collateral descendants who wanted the verdict favouring Leicester overturned and the king’s remains reinterred in York. He said his client was now considering appealing against the decision, but no public statement would be made on this issue today.

Specifically, the alliance challenged 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 Leicester City Council car park during the autumn of 2012 and reinter them. The university later announced it intended the reburial would take place in Leicester Cathedral.

The alliance’s lawyers argued that, among other things, the ministry failed to consult sufficiently or take into account the wishes of the king’s descendants, the monarch himself – if they could be determined – or the wider public, when issuing the licence. They maintained the failure to adopt appropriate consultation was unlawful and amounted to breaches by the ministry, university and city council which should cause the licence’s terms to be quashed.

Mr Howarth said: “We obviously respect and accept today’s verdict, and are grateful to have had the opportunity to raise this matter before the courts, but are naturally disappointed at the decision, which we regard as highly regrettable. Also disappointed will be the many thousands of people who expressed the desire to have the decision as to where King Richard III’s remains should be reburied revisited.

“We have, however, no regrets about fighting the case, which we can look back on with pride. My client is a not-for-profit entity and many people were amazed that we got as far as we did.

“Yet the court, in its judgment today, recognised the case was one of broad public interest and our clients had standing to bring it as a public interest litigant – points resisted by the Ministry of Justice and university throughout.”

Mr Howarth added that his client always hoped litigation could be avoided, and that a sensible and respectful dialogue could be entertained instead.

He added, however: “That consensual approach was not one which the defendants were prepared to adopt, even when the court invited all parties to put this matter to an expert panel last August. So, against all odds, our client fought to have this matter brought before the court and succeeded in doing so.

“Whilst they were unable to persuade the court that the decision not to consult more widely was unlawful, the court did acknowledge today that to put this matter to a panel of Privy Councillors and experts may have been politic. However, it said only ministers deal in politics, and the courts with rationality, and it was not considered unlawful for the Ministry of Justice not to put this matter to such a panel.”

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