THE BIRMINGHAM PUB BOMBINGS 1974: JUDGMENT IN THE CHALLENGE TO SCOPE DELIVERED
KRW LAW LLP represent ten of the families of victims of the Birmingham Pub Bombings 1974 in the resumed inquests into the deaths of their loved ones.
Following a two-day hearing in Birmingham last month before an Appeal Judge and a High Court Judge, today we and our clients have been informed that the application for judicial review of the Ruling on Scope of the Coroner to the Birmingham Inquest (1974) has been successful.
This means that the Coroner’s Ruling on Scope, in which he ruled out of scope of the inquest the perpetrator issue of who organised, planted and detonated the bombs in Birmingham on 21st November 1974 in which 21 innocent civilians were killed (and those associated with the bombings), has to be re-taken. The Court provided some guidance for the Coroner on factors which may bear on his decision.
A reason for the success of this challenge was that the Coroner asked the wrong question on the scope of the inquest – this is a matter the Coroner will have to reconsider in light of the guidance of the judges. He may take his time and review the disclosure of material which is on-going – he did say that scope was always under review. Now scope must be under review taking account of the issue of the perpetrators and questions of responsibility which must be put to a jury – the Court ruled that these issues could be dealt with by a jury in an inquest forum as long as within the parameters of fairness and proportionality.
Whether the Coroner will appeal this judgment to the Court of Appeal is as yet unknown. Whether he will invite further submissions on the perpetrator issue, as suggested by the Court, is also unknown. The next hearing in the inquest has been provisionally re-scheduled from the 26th January to the 22nd February – the agenda for that hearing is not yet known.
What is clear is that this is an important judgment for our clients who were knocked back by the Legal Aid Agency, who considered this application to have little merit. Our clients relied upon the charity of the community – and the belief of many people – that this challenge was right and went to a core element of this inquest of who bombed Birmingham or who allowed Birmingham to be bombed – the final time an investigation into the bombing of Birmingham and the sacrifice of the 21 can be undertaken. KRW and our clients continue to assist the Coroner’s team in their investigations and in identifying new evidential leads and witnesses. We will continue to press the British government for full disclosure of all material it holds in relation to the bombings.
Our client’s maintain that the investigation must be independent and conducted in accordance with human rights standards. They continue to resist the role of the West Midlands Police in the process of identifying those responsible for the greatest loss of life in England due to a criminal act since 1945.
Christopher Stanley of KRW LAW LLP said:
“This is an important judgment for both our clients, the relatives of the victims of the Birmingham Pub Bombings 1974, and more generally for those sadly affected by tragic events which result in complex inquests. Today the Divisional Court has requested the Coroner to consider again the question he asked himself when deciding to exclude those responsible for the Birmingham Pub Bombing 1974 from the scope of the inquest. They have suggested guidelines which he may wish to take into account in determining again whether perpetrators can be included in scope – the Divisional Court did not agree with the Coroner that the issue of perpetrators and responsibility was too impractical to place before a jury. The Coroner has 21 days from today to apply to the Court of Appeal. He may wish to consider further disclosure before re-making his decision – his decision may once again exclude the perpetrator issue but based on different reasoning. The views of the Divisional Court may in the long serve to suggest that a statutory public inquiry might be a more appropriate and effective process to investigate the Birmingham Pub Bombings 1974 in accordance with human rights standards. . He has previously said that the scope of this inquest is constantly under review. In any event this was an important challenge to bring – despite the opinion of the Legal Aid Agency which rejected an application for public funding on the basis that its civil servants saw no merit in the application.”