Tuesday 18 February 2014

Come on Home Secretary you know you've got to.....order a Litvinenko Public Inquiry

Sir Robert Owen, otherwise High Court Judge with great experience, but for these purposes the Assistant Coroner for Inner North London, wanted to include within his Inquest into the death of Mr Litvinenko, the question of whether the Russian Federation Government was culpable in his homicide.  A review of the documents by his legal team elicited a positive prima facie case.  But HMG PII'd many of those docs making an Inquest (which is outside of JSD - see posts passim) impossible.  So Sir Robert, in pursuit of justice, asked to be made the Chairman of a Public Inquiry so that he could hold secret hearings, but at least he could look at the question of who killed Mr Litvinenko - i.e. work out whether or not the agents of a foreign government murdered someone under the Queen's Peace (or within the procedural jurisdiction of article 2 ECHR as we now call it).  HMG does not want an inquiry for various reasons including our foreign post-Snowden intelligence partners not understanding how a Judge gets to have a look a loads of sensitive evidence, even in private.  Plus bizarrely:

Fifth, an inquiry is almost certain to be more costly of time, money and resources than an inquest. Since the whole point of an inquiry would be to enable the chairman to consider material additional to that which the inquest would consider, the inquiry would be very likely to take considerably longer to complete, in circumstances where there is justifiable public concern to see this matter brought to a proper conclusion. The effect of acceding to your request would be that the consideration of closed material, which can never be revealed publicly, would delay the publication of conclusions that can be drawn from the open material. Furthermore, even allowing for your helpful offer to act as Chairman and to adapt the existing administrative arrangements to fit an inquiry, it is the Government's assessment that the exercise would be substantially more expensive than an inquest. In times when the public pursue is under real strain and the whole of Government is required to exercise restraint in incurring additional expenditure, this is a factor of real substance which must be taken into account.

Seriously?  The question of whether or not something pretty serious happened on English soil can't be investigated in a proper manner because the public purse won't run to it.  

Well the Admin Court (Stephen Richard LJ in the lead) quashed the decision (although of course it could not address the costs issues - better to stick with the black letter stuff) and has sent it back to the Home Secretary to have another go at either coming up with lawful reasons to refuse an Inquiry or to jolly well get on with setting up a public inquiry as to how some foreign chaps might have got some highly radioactive elements into central London and inside Mr Litvinenko.  Why would the public have interest in having that investigated by a Judge.  Let's get on with it?  I'm sure Owen J will respect and protect the sensitivities of our intelligence partners and will keep the PII material out of the public domain; but will at least give us some sort of publicly exposable gist of what happened and how we might prevent, what might have been a dangerous incursion into our sovereignty, from happening again.......