Human remains were discovered underneath a municipal car park in Leicester in 2012. DNA testing confirmed beyond reasonable doubt that the excavated skeleton was that of King Richard III, the last monarch of the house of Plantagenet (defeated and killed at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, the culmination of the War of the Roses between the Yorkist and Lancastrian lines of the dynasty). The University of Leicester, which had conducted the dig, applied to the Secretary of State for a licence to re-inter the remains of the crouchback king (the skeleton showed signs of scoliosis) in Leicester cathedral in accordance with the Burial Act 1857. All well and good, one would have thought, until the Plantagenet Alliance Ltd challenged the granting of the licence. The Alliance, composed of collateral descendants of the king, want the royal body to be buried in York, Richard III having been the last of the Yorkists.

But did the descendants have standing to seek judicial review of the Secretary of State's decision? Yes, said Haddon-Cave J of the Administrative Court: Plantagenet Alliance Ltd v Secretary of State for Justice, [2013] EWHC B13 (Admin). The judge was satisfied that the Alliance and its members had a 'sufficient interest' in the matter, both on conventional principles of administrative law and in light of the 'unusual circumstances ... of the discovery of the proven remains of a former monarch'. While the Burial Act 1857 grants wide discretion to grant licences for reburial, the Secretary of State was under a common-law duty to consult before making a decision, and the category of appropriate people who needed to be consulted was 'very wide': it included citizens with an interest in the reburial of the king, not least his surviving collateral descendants, as well as ecclesiastical and civic bodies, and the Queen. It was also necessary to consider the wishes of Richard III himself with respect to his final resting place, to the extent these could be ascertained or inferred. The Secretary of State had failed to carry out any consultation or to follow guidance on the ethical treatment of excavated human remains published by English Heritage. A duty to consult widely arose from the 'singular fact alone' of the 'remarkable, and unprecedented, discovery of the remains of a King of England of considerable historical significance'. For fear of starting a new War of the Roses, however, the judge recommended that the parties should refer the reburial issue to an independent advisory panel of experts and privy councillors, who could conduct the proper consultations. Otherwise, an 'unseemly, undignified and unedifying ... legal tussle over these royal remains' would be likely to ensue.