Successful appeal against an order for disclosure of documents to the Inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko.


Re: Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs v Assistant Deputy Coroner for Inner North London [2013] EWHC 3724 (Admin)

Application by the Secretary of State for judicial review of a decision by the Deputy Assistant Coroner to partly refuse a public interest immunity application in respect of a number of documents of relevance to the issues in a coroner’s inquest. The defendant applied for a witness summons against the claimant to produce documents that he decided should be disclosed by means of a gist.

Held: the defendant did not 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. While it was plain that the decision was one for the Court, not the claimant, the weight the defendant gave to the views of the claimant was insufficient and amounted to an error of law. The defendant should have reconsidered his first decision in light of his subsequent ones and assessed whether the prejudice created by non-disclosure outweighed the real risk of significant damage to national security. Had the defendant approached the decision in this way, as any reasonable coroner would have done so, he would not have been able to justify a real risk to national security. Therefore the decision was quashed and the matter not remitted. In light of this decision the Court did not have to consider an application by the defendant for a witness summons requiring the Secretary of State to produce documents.

Alex Bailin QC, Ben Emmerson QC and Lorna Skinner were involved in this case.