Judicial review to determine whether Leicester archaeologists legally justified in removing king’s body for cathedral internment
An “unseemly and undignified” legal battle over where the remains of the last Plantagenet king of England, Richard III, should be laid to rest resumes on Tuesday, 528 years after his death and a year after his skeleton was found under a Leicester car park. Richard’s remains are currently in a laboratory at Leicester University.
A judicial review in London will determine whether the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) acted properly in allowing Leicester University archaeologists to remove the remains, later confirmed as those of those of the king, and to announce that he would be reinterred in the city’s cathedral. The plan was supported by Michael Ibsen, a 17th-generation nephew through Richard’s sister Anne of York who provided DNA evidence, but opposed by other relatives in the Plantagenet Alliance, who argue that Richard has no connection with Leicester beyond his death near the city and subsequent “despoliation and appalling burial”.
They argue that York would be a more appropriate city for his internment, especially since he might have been intending York Minster to be his mausoleum, and that failures to take into account relatives’ wishes or the king’s own preferences was a breach of human rights.
Mr Justice Haddon-Cave, the judge who allowed the challenge over whether the MoJ should have consulted widely before granting an exhumation licence advised the parties in the “(legal) Wars of the Roses Part 2”, not to pursue “an unseemly, undignified and unedifying legal tussle” on the issue and instead consider referring the matter to an independent advisory panel made up of “suitable experts and privy councillors” to make recommendations.
Lawyers for the Alliance say they were prepared to do just that but the government and university refused. Matthew Howarth, a partner at Yorkshire law firm Gordons, representing the alliance, said: “The fact we’ve got this far has confounded many people, given that my client is a not-for-profit entity and my firm has undertaken a considerable amount of work for it on a pro-bono basis. However, the judiciary has recognised, despite the clear inequality of arms here, that my client’s case ‘self-evidently raises matters of general public importance’ and therefore deserves to be heard,” said Howarth.
“Why the big guns ranged against us continue to fight this case, against a claimant with no resources, incurring substantial legal costs and court time, and refuse to accept the eminently more sensible option of putting the matter to an expert panel, as the judge suggested, is beyond us.”
The MoJ said in a statement: “The exhumation licence was granted by the Ministry of Justice following due process. We are disappointed that permission was granted to the Plantagenet Alliance Limited to challenge the licence. We are defending our position at the judicial review hearing.”
Shakespeare has it that the king was shouting for a horse rather than the courts before he was cut down at Bosworth, but in another of his plays, Henry VI Pt 1, the playwright endorses the legend that the Wars of the Roses began near where the Royal Courts of Justice now stand, when John Beaufort and Richard Plantaganet picked the symbolic red and white roses of the medieval rivals for the crown in the Inner and Middle Temple gardens.
Judgment following is expected to be reserved, and delivered in a few weeks.