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Richard III: York -v- Leicester

Today the High Court in London will hear both sides of the argument in the battle over where Richard III’s remains should be buried.

Over a year ago Archaeologists in Leicester, working as part of a team with the University of Leicester, the County Council and the Richard III Society, made an astounding discovery when they excavated remains in a Council car park which were later confirmed conclusively as the remains of Richard III.

Richard III, the last King of England to die in battle, was killed during the Battle of Bosworth and the location of his remains has been a moot point for years. Many historians believed that Richard III had been buried in Greyfriars Church in Leicester (which was destroyed during Henry VIII’s reign) but this remained unproven.

However, the discovery of the historical site of Greyfriars Church (underneath a Council car park) in early September 2012 led to the unearthing of human skeletal remains. Following the discovery, the University of Leicester (which was leading the excavation) applied to the Secretary of State for Justice for an exhumation licence (“the Licence”). The Secretary of State granted the Licence, which permitted the University of Leicester to conduct scientific testing on the remains. However the Licence also stated that by no later than 31 August 2014 the remains, of at that time ‘persons unknown’, must be deposited at Jewry Wall Museum in Leicester or be reinterred at St Martin’s Cathedral in Leicester.

Following DNA testing, which confirmed that one of the skeletons exhumed from the Council car park was that of the Richard III, the University of Leicester put in place plans to reinter the remains of Richard III at St Martin’s Cathedral in Leicester.

That plan was met with much resistance by a group which call themselves The Plantagenet Alliance Limited (“the PAL”). The PAL is made up of distant relatives of Richard III and in May 2013 they issued an Application for Judicial Review asking the Court, amongst other things, to review the lawfulness of the actions of the Secretary of State in granting the Licence to the University of Leicester. The PAL claims that the Secretary of State had a duty to consult as to where the remains of Richard III should be re-interred. In the words of Counsel acting for the Claimant, it is not simply a case of ‘finders keepers’.

In August this year the PAL was granted permission to proceed with its Application for Judicial Review as it was considered that its claim had merit. The Application is strongly resisted by the two Defendants, the Secretary of State for Justice and the University of Leicester. York Cathedral and St Martin’s Cathedral in Leicester, who are likely to be directly affected by the outcome of the claim, are ‘interested parties’ in the proceedings. This allows them to participate in the claim and to make representations to the Court about how its decision will affect them.

The PAL believes that the remains of Richard III should be reinterred in York. The PAL considers that as the last King of the House of York, Richard III would have wished to have his final resting place in York and not Leicester.

The battle as to where Richard III should be buried has attracted huge media attention and divided opinion.

It is likely that the Court will reserve its judgment following today’s hearing. It is important to note that the Court will not, and cannot, determine where the King’s final resting place should be.

The Court can only review the lawfulness of the decision of the Secretary of State to grant the Licence. If it is ruled that the Secretary of State did have a duty to consult it will then be ‘back to the drawing board’ as the current Secretary of State, Chris Grayling, will be asked to reconsider the conditions of the Licence regarding where the King should be reinterred. This will most likely include a consultation about the location of his final resting place. Alternatively if it is ruled that there was no duty to consult it is likely that the University of Leicester and the County Council will plough on with their plans for the King to be buried in Leicester together with the creation of a visitors centre documenting his life.

Lastly, without wanting to sound too cynical an undercurrent to these proceedings is the realisation that a substantial amount of tourism (and therefore income) will be gained by whichever city the King is laid to rest in. Therefore in these austere times there is clearly a lot at stake.

Watch this space…

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Aimee Hutchinson

Commercial Dispute Resolution
0113 227 9203
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Aimee Hutchinson Blacks Solicitors LLP