Lawyer says he will challenge decision-making in the High Court
The family of former Welsh Cabinet Secretary Carl Sargeant has instructed their lawyer to challenge the decision to exclude them from participating effectively in the independent inquiry into how Mr Sargeant was sacked by First Minister Carwyn Jones.
The Welsh Government fixed the procedure of the inquiry in an operational protocol in conjunction with inquiry chair, Paul Bowen QC.
“The operational protocol is deeply unsatisfactory. While the family take at face value Mr Bowen’s assurances that he will carry out a fair and independent investigation, they do not believe the protocol allows for it. The family only agreed to the protocol in the interests of getting on with the inquiry, but they remain deeply concerned about the Permanent Secretary’s decision-making in relation to the family’s exclusion.
“The Permanent Secretary, acting on behalf of the First Minister, has refused to allow the family to have their own legal representation at the inquiry, meaning they will be unable to have a barrister cross-examine any of the witnesses.”
Mr Hudgell has also questioned the timing of the hearings, which he believes have been deliberately convened for when the family’s barrister, Leslie Thomas QC, is required to attend the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.
Neil Hudgell says: “I have written to both Paul Bowen and the Permanent Secretary to advise them that we believe the decision-making in relation to the protocol to be unreasonable and we will challenge it by way of a judicial review in the High Court if we have to.”
Mr Hudgell also highlighted a memo from the Permanent Secretary, sent out last Friday, asking all government staff to send any information for the inquiry direct to the government, rather than to Mr Bowen, as a clear sign that the government is not committed to being open and transparent in its dealing with the inquiry.
He says that an amendment to the memo was hurriedly sent out later in the day advising government staff that they could contact the inquiry.
“The Permanent Secretary has rejected all of the various requests we have made of her via Paul Bowen. The grieving Sargeant family are losing patience and faith in the inquiry and are hurt and upset that everything they have asked for has been ignored. Mr Bowen can only go as far as the Permanent Secretary will allow and we currently have an inquiry process where there will be no effective involvement from the family. How can that be fair?”
At a pre-inquest hearing into Mr Sargeant’s death on Friday, the coroner for North Wales said that the First Minister would be called to the inquest to give evidence. Mr Hudgell said that it was only right that the First Minister be questioned by Leslie Thomas QC, but pointed out that the remit of the inquest would be far narrower than the inquiry and so it was essential that the family’s barrister be allowed to carry out rigorous questioning of the First Minister as part of the inquiry as well.