Carl Sargeant's widow mounts legal challenge over inquiry into the death of late Welsh Government Minister

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Leslie Thomas QC is instructed by Neil Hudgell of Hudgell Solicitors on behalf of Carl Sargeant's family, alongside Sheryn Omeri of Cloisters Chambers.

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Bernie Sargeant, the widow of former Welsh Assembly member Carl Sargeant, is challenging the legality of the proposed operation of the independent inquiry set up to investigate the role of First Minister Carwyn Jones in her husband’s removal from his post as Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children.

She has also spoken about her concerns that the way the Welsh Government is approaching the inquiry has the makings of a cover-up.

In an application lodged by lawyers at the High Court in London last week, Mrs Sargeant is seeking a judicial review to challenge the ‘unlawful’ decision-making of the First Minister of Wales (FM) and the Permanent Secretary to the Welsh Government (PS) in relation to the inquiry’s operational protocol, which will govern how the inquiry will proceed.

The inquiry is led by Paul Bowen QC as chair and independent investigator, but the operational protocol was drafted by the PS, who reports to the FM.

Mrs Sargeant says that the decision making by the FM and PS in relation to the inquiry was done without properly consulting her.

Specifically, she is challenging the following decisions:

  • to bar the family’s lawyers from being able to question witnesses;
  • to allow the independent investigator to bar the family from hearings;
  • to prevent oral evidence from being heard in public;
  • to prevent the independent investigator from being able to order witnesses to give evidence.

She is also challenging the decision by the government to send out a memo to all Welsh government civil servants in June asking them to notify the PS or her colleagues in governance or HR if they had evidence directly relating to the inquiry, rather than go directly to Mr Bowen QC. An amendment was hurriedly sent advising staff that they could also contact the inquiry.

However, the application argues that this request may have hampered the inquiry and, despite the amended message, it still read as if to impose a requirement to share evidence with the PS before the independent investigator.

The application asserts that the above decisions are “unlawful and/or irrational and/or amount to fettering of discretion and/or demonstrate an absence of independence and/or violate Articles 2, 6 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights”.

It also highlights confusion and concerns about the role of the FM in making decisions about the operational protocol given that it is his actions that are under investigation.

Speaking publicly for the first time since her husband died, Bernie Sargeant says:

“I’m so disappointed that I have been forced to take this action. I had thought after Carl’s death that I, and my young family, would be treated with honesty and respect. Yet, we can’t help but feeling we are looking at a cover-up.

“We have a right to be able to hear and challenge the evidence. Please believe me, we are not trying to be obstructive, we just want to get to the truth and feel that we have a great deal to offer the inquiry. We don’t want to be excluded.

“It’s been over nine months since Carl’s death and we’re no further forward in getting answers than we were last November. All I want is to understand and process why my husband is no longer here. This whole thing just adds agony to heartbreak, but I owe it to Carl to get the full picture.”

Neil Hudgell of Hudgell Solicitors represents Mrs Sargeant. He says:

“I have repeatedly outlined the family’s and our own concerns to the First Minister, the Permanent Secretary and the inquiry chair, but they have been ignored.

“Aside from the ongoing and very obvious distress this is causing Bernie and her family, we now have no other option but to seek a judicial review.”

The case has been reported widely including by Wales Online, Guardian and BBC.

Leslie Thomas QC is a member of the Garden Court Chambers Inquests and Inquiries Team.

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