Gordons secures judicial review for Richard III’s descendants

Yorkshire firm Gordons has triumphed in an application for judicial review of the site where the remains of King Richard III will finally be interred.

The firm’s head of commercial litigation, Matthew Howarth, instructed Blackstone Chambers’ Gerard Clarke and Tom Cleaver to bring an application for judicial review on behalf of the Plantagenet Alliance, a group of descendants of the king who want him to be buried in York Minster (26 March 2013). 

This morning (16 August), Mr Justice Haddon-Cave granted the application on all grounds and issued a protective costs order to prevent the Government and the University of Leicester, the first and second defendants, from recovering costs from the claimants. Haddon-Cave J also said the alliance’s costs would be capped “at a level to be set by the court”.

The Plantagenet Alliance are arguing that there should have been a consultation on the appropriate location for the remains of the king to be buried. Richard III’s skeleton was discovered underneath a carpark in Leicester in September last year by a team from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services, who had applied for a licence to exhume the remains.

When the licence was granted by the Ministry of Justice, it gave permission for the remains to be exhumed and then re-interred before 31 August 2014 at the Jewry Wall Museum in Leicester, at Leicester Cathedral, or “in a burial ground in which interments may legally take place”.

Giving his reasons for granting the application, Haddon-Cave said: ”The archaeological discovery of the mortal remains of a former King of England after 500 years is without precedent. In my judgment, it is plainly arguable that there was a duty at common law to consult widely as to how and where Richard III’s remains should appropriately be re-interred.”

The application had been resisted by the Government and the university both on its merits and on the grounds of delay and “lack of standing” on the part of the claimants. Haddon-Cave rejected the latter two arguments, saying the application had been filed at the right time and also that the alliance “had sufficient interest and standing” to bring the proceedings.

He added that the Government should have consulted a wide range of consultees, including UK citizens “who have an interest in the place of reburial of the remains of a King of England”, Richard III’s living descendants, civic and ecclesiastical bodies, the Queen and also “the wishes of Richard III himself, in so far as they can be ascertained or inferred”.

Haddon-Cave J said the Government failed to carry out a consultation, and that as a responsible public body the university should not have begun preparations for the interment before an appropriate consultation had been carried out.

The judge concluded by saying: “It is ironic that the Wars of the Roses appear to be returning whence they started, the Temple. Legend has it that John Beaufort and Richard Plantagenet picked the symbolic red and white roses in Inner and Middle Temple gardens. I would, however, urge the parties to avoid embarking on the (legal) Wars of the Roses Part 2. In my view, it would be unseemly, undignified and unedifying to have a legal tussle over these royal remains.”

He added: “For these reasons, I would strongly recommend that parties immediately consider referring the fundamental question – as to where and how Richard III is reburied – to an independent advisory panel made up of suitable experts and Privy Councillors, who can consult and receive representations from all interested parties and make suitable recommendations with reasonable speed.”

A substantive judicial review hearing is to take place in the next court term.

The legal line-up:

For the claimants, the Plantagent Alliance

Gordons partner Matthew Howath, instructing Blackstone Chambers’ Gerard Clarke and Tom Cleaver

For the first defendant, the Secretary of State for Justice

Treasury Solicitors, instructing 11KBW’s Joanne Clement

For the second defendant, the University of Leicester

In-house counsel Penny McConnell, instructing 11KBW’s Anya Proops and Heather Emmerson

For the first interested party, the Cathedral of Saint Martin Leicester

Latham & Co lawyer Kay Hewitt, instructing 9 Stone Buildings’ Vivian Chapman QC