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Call for Judicial Review Over York's Richard III Leicester Burial

Richard III 060313

12:31pm 26th March 2013
(Updated 7:52am 27th March 2013)

Descendants of King Richard III, campaigning to have his remains buried in York, are to seek to judicially review the decisions authorising the exhuming and reinterring of his remains in Leicester. 

The Ministry of Justice last autumn gave archaeologists from the University of Leicester permission to unearth remains from beneath a council car park in the city, so they could establish whether the remains were those of the last ruler of the House of York. The ministry also gave the university discretion to decide where the bones should be reburied. 

Subsequent investigations revealed that the remains were indeed those of the king, who became the last reigning English ruler to die in battle when he was killed at Bosworth Field in 1485. It is understood that the university plans to have the king’s remains re-interred in Leicester Cathedral next year.   

However, the Plantagenet Alliance, spearheaded by 15 of Richard III’s relatives, is now to challenge the Ministry of Justice’s decision to grant the “section 25 licence” to the university, through which the university was given permission to remove and reinter the king’s remains, and seek that the licence be quashed. The relatives will argue, amongst other things, that the Ministry of Justice failed to consult with them over the terms of the licence and that such failure constitutes a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to respect for private and family life). The campaigners are being advised on this case by judicial review experts from Yorkshire law firm Gordons.

Matthew Howarth, the partner leading the Gordons team working on the challenges, said: “We have now written officially to the Ministry of Justice and University of Leicester, notifying them that we plan to issue these claims. This enables us to obtain some further information from them relating to the matters in question.

“We will follow up by issuing the judicial review and other proceedings as soon as possible, but certainly within the next few weeks.”

King Richard III, although born at Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, grew up in Middleham, North Yorkshire. Known as Richard of York before his coronation, he visited York several times during his 26-month reign and funded part of its medieval gated walls.

The Plantagenet Alliance’s Stephen Nicolay, a 16th great nephew of the monarch, said: “We’ve enlisted Gordons’ help with these challenges because of their proven great expertise in judicial review matters. We have every hope that Matthew and his colleagues will succeed in these cases and help us significantly in our quest to have Richard’s remains buried at the most appropriate site, York Minster.”

An e-petition on the direct.gov.uk website, calling for King Richard III’s remains to be re-interred in York, opened last September, has so far been signed by almost 26,000 people. A similar petition backing a re-burial in Leicester has attracted less than 8,000 signatures.    

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

The University of Leicester said in a statement:

Today, the Plantagenet Alliance have issued a statement announcing that they are seeking a judicial review of the granting of the licence to exhume the remains of Richard III. The University completely refutes this claim.

The University of Leicester holds a legitimate licence granted by the Ministry of Justice.  As the licence holder the University is responsible for the location of reinterment. Our decision was, and remains, that Richard III should be reinterred at Leicester Cathedral for the reasons outlined below.

• The plan for reinterment in Leicester Cathedral was clearly stated and unambiguous at the start of the project and announced in a statement on Friday 24 August 2012. This was before the dig started.

• Reinterment on the nearest consecrated ground is in keeping with good archaeological practice. Richard has lain in the shadow of St Martin’s Cathedral, Leicester, for over 500 years.

• The landowner (Leicester City Council) gave permission for the excavation of the Greyfriars site on this basis.

Richard III is believed to have no living descendants. Any distant relations are therefore descended from his siblings. Statistically speaking, many tens of thousands of individuals alive today are descended in this way.

There is no obligation to consult living relatives where remains are older than 100 years.

We also note that York Minster issued a statement on 7th February supporting the “wish of the Chapter of Leicester that Richard should be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral. The Chapter of York commends Richard to Leicester's care and to the cathedral community's prayers”.

The attempt to invoke Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to respect for… family life) seems particularly odd given the distance of any relations and the years that have past.

The University will continue to work with our partners, the Richard III Society, Leicester Cathedral and Leicester City Council to ensure an appropriate and fitting reinterment for England’s last Plantagenet monarch in Leicester.

Meanwhile, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "Proper procedures were followed in granting the exhumation licence to Leicester University."

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