Human remains were discovered underneath a municipal car park in
Leicester in 2012. DNA testing confirmed beyond reasonable doubt
that the excavated skeleton was that of King Richard III, the last
monarch of the house of Plantagenet (defeated and killed at the
battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, the culmination of the War of the
Roses between the Yorkist and Lancastrian lines of the dynasty).
The University of Leicester, which had conducted the dig, applied
to the Secretary of State for a licence to re-inter the remains of
the crouchback king (the skeleton showed signs of scoliosis) in
Leicester cathedral in accordance with the Burial Act
1857. All well and good, one would have thought, until the
Plantagenet Alliance Ltd challenged the granting of the licence.
The Alliance, composed of collateral descendants of the king, want
the royal body to be buried in York, Richard III having been the
last of the Yorkists.
But did the descendants have standing to seek judicial review of
the Secretary of State's decision? Yes, said Haddon-Cave J of
the Administrative Court: Plantagenet Alliance Ltd v Secretary
of State for Justice,  EWHC B13 (Admin). The judge was
satisfied that the Alliance and its members had a 'sufficient
interest' in the matter, both on conventional principles of
administrative law and in light of the 'unusual circumstances
... of the discovery of the proven remains of a former
monarch'. While the Burial Act 1857 grants wide
discretion to grant licences for reburial, the Secretary of State
was under a common-law duty to consult before making a decision,
and the category of appropriate people who needed to be consulted
was 'very wide': it included citizens with an interest in
the reburial of the king, not least his surviving collateral
descendants, as well as ecclesiastical and civic bodies, and the
Queen. It was also necessary to consider the wishes of Richard III
himself with respect to his final resting place, to the extent
these could be ascertained or inferred. The Secretary of State had
failed to carry out any consultation or to follow guidance on the
ethical treatment of excavated human remains published by English
Heritage. A duty to consult widely arose from the 'singular
fact alone' of the 'remarkable, and unprecedented,
discovery of the remains of a King of England of considerable
historical significance'. For fear of starting a new War of the
Roses, however, the judge recommended that the parties should refer
the reburial issue to an independent advisory panel of experts and
privy councillors, who could conduct the proper consultations.
Otherwise, an 'unseemly, undignified and unedifying ... legal
tussle over these royal remains' would be likely to ensue.
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