Secrecy order quashed in UK Litvinenko inquiry
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MOSCOW, November 27 (RAPSI) - London’s High Court quashed on Wednesday part of a public interest immunity (PII) decision that had been handed down earlier this year in connection with an inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko.
In February of this year, the UK Foreign Secretary claimed a PII in relation to various documents connected with the Litvinenko inquest.
In May, the Assistant Deputy Coroner partially upheld the PII claim and partially rejected it.
The Secretary then turned to the court for a judicial review of the Coroner’s decision.
The secretary’s claims were described in the judgment as follows: first, the Coroner failed to adequately respect the Secretary’s calculation in balancing the competing public interests at hand; second, he failed to appropriately balance the competing public interests “by treating his desire to conduct what he considered to be a ‘full and proper’ inquest as a ‘trump card’ which overrode all other consideration,” and third, he reached a decision on the merits of the claim that a reasonable coroner should not have reached.
The court notes that the key issue was not whether the inquest would be prejudiced by non-disclosure, as it certainly would be. Rather the issue was whether such prejudice would outweigh any potentially legitimate national security risk.
The judgment states, “The Secretary of State carefully and cogently explained why in his view, disclosure involved a real and significant risk to national security,” later noting that on the other hand, “The Coroner did not really explain the reasoning which drove him to decide that the need for ‘a full and proper inquiry’ outweighed the real risk of damage to national security.”
The court concluded that the Coroner afforded insufficient weight to the Secretary’s views on the disclosures, amounting to “an error of law.” The judgment went on to state: “Had the Coroner approached the balancing exercise in accordance in the way I have summarised, he would have been bound similarly to have found. No coroner could reasonably have done otherwise. That is why we quashed the Coroner’s decision and declined to remit the matter.”
Litvinenko, 43, a former FSB officer who fled to the UK in 2000, was allegedly poisoned by radioactive Polonium-210 while drinking tea during a meeting with former security colleagues at the Millennium Hotel in Grosvenor Square in November 2006.
He died three weeks later in University College Hospital.
FSB retiree Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun have been identified as the prime suspects, but both deny any involvement.