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 was the decision 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, the press and most of the core participants 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 is the purpose of the inquiry?

The purpose of the inquiry is to seek to establish the facts surrounding the death of Alexander Litvinenko as required by the terms of reference. The Chairman will make appropriate recommendations in light of his findings of fact.

Logistics of the Inquiry

Q: What is the format of the inquiry?

The Litvinenko Inquiry was 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 the inquiry:

  • The first stage was investigative. The inquiry gathered together documentation and other material relevant to the terms of reference, some of which had been obtained during the inquest’s procedures.
  • The second stage involved hearing oral evidence. The inquiry held public hearings between 27 January and 30 March 2015; the hearings recommenced on 24 July and finished on 31 July 2015. Witnesses who had provided a written statement were asked to attend to give evidence in the hearing room. Witnesses who live or work abroad were invited to give their oral evidence via a video link rather than having to travel to the United Kingdom. Witnesses were questioned by Counsel to the Inquiry, and sometimes other counsel who represent the core participants and/or witnesses. The Chairman listened to their evidence and sometimes put questions of his own. There was a series of oral closed hearings from which the public, most of the core participants and the press were excluded. The Chairman also considered evidence which had been received in written or documentary form, some of it highly classified.
  • The third stage is writing the report. Having heard and read all the evidence gathered by the inquiry, the Chairman is writing a report of his findings and this will include making any appropriate recommendations. The Chairman expects to deliver his report to the Home Secretary by the end of 2015. The timing of the publication of the report is a matter for discussion between the Secretary of State and the Chairman.

Q: Are records of the hearings available on the website?

On each day of the open hearings the transcript and evidence considered were published on the website, unless any contrary order or restriction notice made under section 19 of the Inquiries Act 2005 was in place. Directions made by the Chairman are available on the documents page.

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 page.

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 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.

Progress with the Inquiry

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’ 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 did the inquiry hold oral hearings?

Public hearings took place between 27 January and 30 March 2015; the hearings recommenced on 24 July and finished on 31 July 2015.

Q: Were members of the public and media permitted to attend hearings?

Hearings were open to the public and media unless a restriction notice was in place, or the Chairman had directed that a witness should have anonymity, or other protective measures. Where protective measures were in place, the public and media could usually follow proceedings from the inquiry annex, with restriction relevant to the witness in question.

Q: Will the further hearings in July 2015 delay delivery of the report to the Home Secretary?

The public hearings in July are unlikely, of themselves, to affect the report writing timetable.

Q: Why were further open hearings necessary?

The Chairman scheduled further open hearings because in March 2015 Mr Dmitri Kovtun approached the inquiry to say that he was prepared to give oral evidence. Arrangements needed to be made to allow Mr Kovtun to give evidence by video link and for the inquiry legal team and those representing core participants to consider what questions should be asked.

Q: When will the Chairman publish his findings?

The Chairman expects to deliver his report to the Home Secretary by the end of 2015. The timing of the publication of the report is a matter for discussion between the Secretary of State and the Chairman.

Q: Will the inquest be re-opened after the inquiry report has been published?

After the report has been published Sir Robert Owen, in his capacity as Assistant Coroner, will have to consider whether, in light of the inquiry’s findings, there is sufficient reason why the inquest should be re-opened.

Core Participants & Witnesses

Q: Who are the 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 will not necessarily be a core participant for the whole duration of the inquiry.

At present the core participants are:

  • Mrs Marina Litvinenko and Mr Anatoly Litvinenko
  • The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis
  • Secretary of State for the Home Department
  • AWE plc
  • Mr Dmitri Kovtun

Q:  Who are the core participants’ legal representatives?

  • Mrs Marina Litvinenko and Mr Anatoly Litvinenko:
    Counsel – Ben Emmerson QC and Adam Straw
    Solicitor – Elena Tsirlina, Blokh Solicitors [+44 (0)20 7034 7055]
  • The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis:
    Counsel – Richard Horwell QC and Saba Naqshbandi
    Solicitor – Jenny Leonard and Prit Mandair, Directorate of Legal Services  [+44 (0)20 7230 1212]
  • Secretary of State for the Home Department:
    Counsel – Neil Garnham QC and Robert Wastell
    Solicitor – Paul Bishop and Catherine Turtle, Treasury Solicitor’s Department  [+44 (0)20 7210 3000]
  • AWE plc:
    Counsel – David Evans QC and Alasdair Henderson
    Solicitor – Simon Ramsden, Treasury Solicitor’s Department  [+44 (0)20 7210 3000]

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. The current core participants’ legal representatives are listed above.

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: Were any witnesses offered immunity from prosecution?

There are no immunities from prosecution relating to the inquiry’s work.

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

As the minister responsible for this inquiry the Home Secretary has various powers and duties under the Inquiries Act 2005 in relation to its conduct.

Sir Robert Owen

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

Having acted as the Assistant Coroner responsible for conducting the inquest into Mr Litvinenko’s death, Sir Robert was well qualified for the role of Chairman of the inquiry investigating Mr Litvinenko’s death.

Q: What is the Chairman’s role?

The Chairman is responsible for discharging the inquiry’s terms of reference and he decides its procedures, subject to a statutory duty to act fairly. The Chairman supervises the running of the inquiry and will 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?

The Chairman is assisted by a team of people:

  • Solicitor to the Inquiry – he administers the legal functions of the inquiry
  • Counsel to the Inquiry – they advise the Chairman and conduct the oral hearings
  • Secretariat – responsible for administering the non-legal aspects of the inquiry (e.g. finance, accommodation, 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 expects to deliver his report to the Home Secretary by the end of 2015.

Q: Will the Chairman give interviews?

Sir Robert will not give any media interviews.