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I would not attach any great significance to the question of the jury.  Nobody -- including Lugovoi's lawyers -- expressed a wish for it.

I think a High Court judge is the appropriate choice.  As to the forensics, in the long interview he gave to Russia Today, broadcast a year ago today, Lugovoi made clear that the Russian investigators had been looking very closely at the scientific aspects.  As his counsel noted at the 13 December hearing, the fact that the relevant evidence is being supplied to the `interested persons' right at the end of the disclosure process may cause problems.  

But - particularly as the Russian investigators are now going to be an `interested person' - I do not think it likely that the inquest can be rushed in a manner that would deny them the opportunity to have British claims carefully analysed by their own scientists and pathologists.  Of course, precisely the fact that this evidence is being made available so late on must inevitably increase the likelihood that questions about its integrity are going to raise their head:  given the need for analysis, one might have expected that it would be disclosed much earlier.  But for precisely that reason, it would seem more likely that if its implications are heavily contested, as seems likely, the outcome will be further delays in the substantive hearings, rather than an attempt to rush the Russian side.

The upshot however is that a judge with extensive criminal experience, used to dealing with forensic evidence, fits the bill much better than a pathologist.  Meanwhile, some critical aspects of this investigation, I suspect, are going to involve the battles between the Russian security services and the Yukos oligarchs - which was certainly part of the background to Litvinenko's activities both in Britain and Spain.  There are, I think, a lot of knotty financial issues involved. Meanwhile, the complex business relations of Berezovsky and Patarkatsishvili - which Lugovoi put at the heart of the affair - will also need analysis:  and these also involve knotty financial issues.  Accordingly, it seems appropriate that whoever conducts the business has more experience of civil litigation than a coroner could normally be expected to have.  In terms of his experience, Sir Robert Owen would seem to fit the bill very well.

That said, alarm bells were certainly raised by the fact that in the same interview where he called for a senior judge to be appointed, the former CPS head Lord Macdonald both expressed his belief in the 'state directed execution' theory, and also seemed to regard the Hutton Inquiry as a model.

However, with Lord Hutton there appears to have been reason to suspect that he had been deliberately selected, it has commonly suggested at the initiative of Peter Mandelson, because as a Northern Ireland judge he could be expected to be particularly sympathetic to the security services.  I have seen no parallel suggestion about Sir Robert Owen.

Moreover, ironically, the very successful propaganda operation which has been waged by Litvinenko's associates, and also elements in British intelligence, may turn out to have been double-edged in its effects.  It is generally taken for granted in Britain both that the CPS request for Lugovoi's extradition is backed by compelling evidence, and that his refusal to surrender himself, and the refusal of the British authorities to extradite him, are prima facie evidence of guilt.

It is only when one starts looking at the publicly available evidence that it becomes clear that, if a compelling case was submitted to the CPS, it was not reflected in the tissue of unsubstantiated, contradictory and otherwise problematic claims produced in the public domain.  It is clear that reading the evidence which is not in the public domain, Sir Robert has responded by deciding that it is appropriate, at this stage at least, to keep things as open as possible.

In the end, in an inquiry like this, it is the acuteness and integrity of the figure conducting it which are decisive.  Even people's political views are of secondary relevance.  And having attended the three pre-inquest reviews he has conducted, all I can say is that so far at least Sir Robert's conduct of proceedings has been exemplary.

by djhabakkuk (david daught habakkuk at o two daught co daught uk) on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 07:53:08 AM EST
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