FAQ

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Background

Q: When was the Inquiry set up?

The Inquiry was announced by the Home Secretary in a Written Ministerial Statement on 22 July 2014 and the formal set up date for the purposes of section 5 of the Inquiries Act 2005 was 31 July 2014.

Q: Why has the decision been taken to have an Inquiry?

In his statement opening the Inquiry [PDF] on 31 July 2014 Sir Robert Owen said:

“The most important feature of the inquiry and the reason why I ask that it be established is that it will permit me to consider closed evidence and hold closed hearings. That is hearings from which the public, most of the core participants and the press are excluded. Such hearings are of course highly exceptional and rightly so.

“As I have previously mentioned it is not possible to hold such hearings at all during an inquest. The reason why it is of great importance to be able to hold at least some such hearings in this case is that HM Government holds some documents that are relevant to Mr Litvinenko’s death, but which are of such sensitivity that they cannot be used in open court. Had these proceedings remained as an inquest, those documents would have had to be excluded from my enquiries. That was the effect of the PII rulings made by me and by the divisional court last year. It was for precisely that reason- that is to enable me to consider this material in closed hearings- that I asked the government to establish this inquiry.”

Q: What has the Inquiry been set up to establish?

The purpose of the Inquiry is to seek to establish the facts surrounding the death of Alexander Litvinenko as required by its Terms of Reference. The Chairman will make appropriate recommendations in light of his findings of fact.

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Logistics of the Inquiry

Q: What is the format of the Inquiry?

The Litvinenko Inquiry has been established under the Inquiries Act 2005. Other inquiries established under the 2005 Act include the Baha Mousa Public Inquiry in England, the E Coli Inquiry in Wales and the ICL Inquiry held jointly between Scotland and England.

Such inquiries are essentially inquisitorial in nature and, subject to the legislative provisions, their procedure and conduct are matters for the Chairman to decide. As such, no two inquiries are the same.

The Inquiry is charged with carrying out an investigation within its Terms of Reference.

Q: How long will the Inquiry take?

There are three principal stages to an inquiry.

The first in investigative. The Inquiry has to gather together documentation and other materials relevant to its Terms of Reference, some of which will have been gathered during the inquest’s procedures.

Secondly, the Inquiry will hold oral open hearings beginning in January 2015. At this stage witnesses who have provided a written statement will be asked to attend to give live evidence in the hearing room: witnesses who live or work abroad may be asked to give their oral evidence via a video link rather than travelling to the United Kingdom. Witnesses will be questioned by Counsel to the Inquiry, and sometimes other counsel who represent the Core Participants and/or witnesses. The Chairman will listen to their evidence.

There will be a series of oral closed hearings from which the public, most of the core participants and the press will be excluded. The Chairman will also consider evidence which will be received in written or documentary form, some of it highly classified.

Once the oral hearings are concluded the third and final stage will be report writing. Having heard and read all of the evidence gathered by the Inquiry, the Chairman will write a report of his findings and make recommendations for the future.

Q: Are records of proceedings available on the website?

During the open hearings, it is Sir Robert’s intention that transcripts of each day’s hearing and the evidence considered will be published on this website subject to any contrary order or unless a restriction notice made under section 19 of the Inquiries At 2005 is in place.

Any Directions Orders made by the Chairman will be published in the Documents section of the website.

Q: How much will the Inquiry cost and who is paying?

The Inquiry is funded through the Home Office. The Inquiry publishes details of its expenditure on a monthly basis on the Costs area of this website. It is not yet possible to provide an estimate for the total cost of the Inquiry, as this will depend on the length of the report writing period.

Q: Can I put in a Freedom of Information request for information relating to the Inquiry?

As an independent Public Inquiry, the Freedom of Information Act does not apply to the Litvinenko Inquiry. However, in keeping with the spirit of the freedom of information, we will operate in as transparent and open a manner as possible in keeping with the interests of justice.

If you wish to submit a request for information, please contact the Solicitor to the Inquiry.

In common with many other organisations that are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act, we will consider your request for information as if we were covered. This means that we will release the information if we hold it, unless one of the provisions under the Act applies and we determine that complying with the request would not be in keeping with the public interest.

We will respond to your request within 20 working days, either providing the information or explaining why we cannot provide it.

Q: How can I contact the Inquiry if I have evidence relevant to its Terms of Reference?

Those who believe they may have relevant evidence should contact the Inquiry by emailing Martin Smith, Solicitor to the Inquiry, at martin.smith@fieldfisher.com, or by telephoning him on +44 (0)20 7861 4000. Preliminary questions will be asked to ascertain whether the person making the contact does in fact have evidence relevant to the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference.

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Progress with the Inquiry

The Inquiry is in a procedural phase prior to the holding of oral open hearings in January 2015.

Q: How does the Inquiry handle disclosure?

Disclosure is the process during which the Inquiry acquires the majority of its documentary evidence. The Inquiry also has powers to compel individuals and organisations to provide documents that may be relevant to its Terms of Reference. All documents provided to the Inquiry are reviewed for relevance.

Those providing documents may apply to the Chairman for information to be redacted for legal reasons e.g. on grounds of security. The Chairman will consider such applications and, where appropriate, may grant a restriction order pursuant to section 19 of the Inquiries Act. Personal information relating to individuals may also be redacted to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998.

Once the documents have gone through this process they are then loaded onto the Inquiry’s evidence database and disclosed to Core Participants.

Q: What are protective measures and how is the Inquiry applying them?

Protective measures are mechanisms put in place to ensure the safety of witnesses to the Inquiry. Such measures can include preventing disclosure of a witness’s name or image in documentary evidence or at oral hearings.

Witnesses will be given the opportunity to make an application to the Chairman for appropriate measures to be put in place. Applications must meet certain criteria and demonstrate the risk which might result from disclosure of the witness’s identity. The Chairman will then make a ruling on whether to grant or reject the application either in full or in part.

Q: When will the Chairman complete oral hearings and publish his findings?

The Chairman intends to complete oral hearings by Spring 2015 and publish his report by the end of 2015.

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Hearings

Q: When will the Inquiry begin its oral hearings?

The Chairman’s current intention is to begin hearings in January 2015.

Q: Can members of the public and media attend hearings?

Yes. Hearings are open to the public and media unless a restriction notice is in place or the Chairman otherwise directs that they should be held in closed session. Closed sessions are generally held where sensitive information is to be discussed or when a witness has protective measures in place.

Q: What parking is available at the Royal Courts of Justice?

There is no parking at the RCJ. Parking in the vicinity of the courts is extremely restricted.

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Core Participants

Q: Who are core participants?

Rule 5(1) of the Inquiry Rules 2006 makes it clear that a core participant is usually someone who played or may have played a direct and significant role in relation to the matters to which the Inquiry relates; or who has a significant interest in an important aspect of the matter to which the Inquiry relates; or who may be subject to significant or explicit criticism during the proceedings at the Inquiry or in the report.

A core participant is not necessarily a core participant for the entirity of the Inquiry.

Q: Who will be represented before the Inquiry?

The Chairman may designate persons, bodies or organisations as Core Participants provided that person, body or organisation consents to be so designated. Anyone so designated may appoint a legal representative and, where appointed, it is the role of the legal representative to assist their Core Participant client to assist the Inquiry.

A witness may also appoint a legal representative but does not need to be represented in order to engage with the Inquiry. Anyone giving evidence -whether written or oral- to the Inquiry may seek the assistance of the Inquiry team, or they may seek the assistance of a lawyer of their choosing, or they may seek no assistance at all.

Appointment of a legal representative does not give a right for any legal expenses incurred to be paid for from the public purse.

Members, or former members, of large organisations will be expected to be provided with any legal assistance considered appropriate by that organisation.

Q: Who will be giving evidence and will this information be provided in advance?

The Inquiry will publish a witness timetable at least a week in advance of each day’s oral hearings.

Q: Have any witnesses been offered immunity from prosecution?

There are no immunities from prosecution that relate to the Inquiry’s work.

Q: What involvement will the Home Secretary have in this Inquiry?

The Minister responsible for the Inquiry, in this case the Home Secretary, has various powers and duties under the Inquiries Act 2005 in relation to the conduct of the Inquiry.

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Sir Robert Owen

Q: Why was Sir Robert Owen appointed to lead the Inquiry?

Having been the Assistant Coroner responsible for the Inquest looking into the death of Alexander Litvinenko since 7 August 2012, Sir Robert Owen is well qualified to take on the role of Chairman of the Inquiry investigating Mr Litvinenko’s death.

Q: What is the Chairman’s role?

The Chairman of the Inquiry is responsible for discharging the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference and decides its procedures, subject to a statutory duty to act fairly.

He will supervise the running of the Inquiry and write the report at its conclusion, making findings of fact and any relevant recommendations for the future. He cannot make any findings of civil or criminal liability, nor can he award any compensation.

Q: Who assists the Chairman?

Sir Robert is assisted by a team of people, including:

  • The Solicitor to the Inquiry – he administers the legal functions of the Inquiry.
  • Counsel to the Inquiry – it is their job to advise the Chairman and to conduct the oral hearings.
  • A Secretariat – responsible for administering all the non-legal aspects of the Inquiry (e.g. finance, accomodation, hearings, security, personnel, media and the website).

Q: To whom is the Chairman accountable?

As Chairman of the Inquiry Sir Robert acts in an independent capacity and he will make his report in due course to the Home Secretary.

Q: Will the Chairman give interviews?

Sir Robert will not be giving any media interviews.

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