Richard III reburial: judicial review application fails

The Divisional Court of Queen’s Bench has handed down its judgment in the judicial review proceedings on the proposed reburial in Leicester Cathedral of the remains of Richard III.

In R (Plantagenet Alliance Ltd) v Secretary of State for Justice [2014] EWHC 1662 the claimant challenged the following:

  1. the Secretary of State for Justice’s decision of 3 September 2012 to grant a Licence to exhume the remains “without consulting, or attaching conditions requiring the licensee to consult, as to how [or where] the remains of Richard III should be appropriately  re-interred in the event that they were found”;
  2. the Secretary of State’s decision from 4 February 2013 onwards “not to revisit the grant of the Licence once it became clear that the University would not carry out an appropriate consultation”;
  3. Leicester City Council’s decision in February 2013 “either to begin making arrangements for the re-interment of the remains of Richard III at Leicester Cathedral or to accede to University’s arrangements in that regard”; and
  4. Leicester University’s decision on 4 February 2013 “to begin making arrangements for the re-interment of the remains of Richard III at Leicester Cathedral” [para 75].

The Plantagenet Alliance argued that there should have been a public consultation and/or investigation as to the appropriate place for Richard III’s re-interment, either through the appointment of a panel of suitably qualified experts or through a public consultation and that the King’s identifiable living relatives should have had an opportunity to have their views considered:

“It was submitted that this duty arose from the Secretary of State’s settled practice of seeking to obtain appropriate consent from relatives to the exhumation of identifiable remains, or from the unique circumstances of this case. Without such investigation and or consultation the Secretary of State had failed to ensure he was properly informed of all the relevant facts. The Claimant’s Grounds also asserted that Leicester Cathedral was not the most appropriate place for re-interment, but did not assert that the decision was irrational” [para 76].

The Divisional Court [Hallett LJ, Ouseley and Haddon-Cave JJ] rejected the claim. The original proposal to re-inter the remains in Leicester Cathedral had not been irrational; moreover, the fact that some sort of consultation or further inquiries might have been possible or desirable did not mean that no reasonable or rational decision-maker could have been satisfied on the basis of the information already to hand [para 145]. There was no significant new factor of which the Secretary of State would have been unaware and none emerged during the hearing [para 146]. In public law terms, therefore, the Secretary of State had not behaved unreasonably or irrationally when deciding not to revisit the exhumation licence in the light of the information which he already had [para 148]. Nor was there any duty on him to consult [para 159].

As to the claim against the University, it had not been exercising a public function at any stage in relation to the exhumation, retention and re-interment of the remains and was under no public law duty to consult [para 162]. As to the claim against the City Council, its intervention as the “legal sentinel” of Richard III’s bones had been “unnecessary, unhelpful and misconceived” and it, too had no legal duty to consult nor power to intervene once the licence had been granted and the remains removed from its land. It had not been necessary for the Council to be joined as a defendant to the proceedings and the claim against the Council failed also [para 164].

In conclusion, there were no public law grounds on which to interfere with the decisions in question and the application for judicial review was dismissed.