Original article published by the South Wales Argus
FORMER-FIRST minister Carwyn Jones acted unlawfully in setting up and independent inquiry into the death of former Welsh Government minister Carl Sargeant, the High Court has ruled.
Mr Sargeant was found dead at his home in north Wales in November 2017, four days after he was sacked as a minister after allegations of misconduct around women.
Following criticism of his conduct in the days immediately before and after Mr Sargeant’s death, then-first minister Carwyn Jones set up an independent inquiry into the matter.
In its ruling, the High Court says:
It is clear, however, that the first minister and his officials acted in breach of the representations made in the press statement in three principal respects.
First, the permanent secretary did not have a free hand – she was already subject to an unpublished ‘remit’ from the first minister.
Second, the permanent secretary did not carry out the preparations for the inquiry ‘separately from the first minister’s office’: during March to May 2018 she discussed the investigator and family’s proposed amendments with the first minister and sought his approval and authorisation for any changes.
“Third, the first minister continued to have control of the process – indeed, he effectively had the last say and controlled the final form of OP [Operational Protocol]
It would – in layman’s terms – be unfair for the first minister both to retain the political capital of the announcement that the work necessary to establish the investigation would be undertaken independently from his office, and to retain the power to decide what the arrangements for the investigation should be.
In our view, because of the November 10, 2017 press statement, it was also unlawful for him to do this.
On this ground alone, we allow the claimant’s application for judicial review.
There was a simple step which the first minister could have taken before he signed off on the final form of the OP on July 9, 2018: he could have informed the claimant that he had already given the permanent secretary a ‘remit’ as to the terms of the OP and he would, in fact, be the final decision-maker on the final form of the OP.
The claimant could then have made informed objections and representations appropriately.”Neil Hudgell of Hudgell Solicitors, representing Mrs Sargeant, said: “The Sargeant family were completely unaware of the actions of the first minister behind the scenes, despite his assurances of independence.
It is hugely regrettable that they have had to take matters before the High Court to shine a light on what have proven to be empty words from the former first minister.
Today’s ruling does at least address some of the long-held concerns they had about the independence of the inquiry.“I hope that the Welsh Government and the inquiry chair will now move swiftly to meaningfully consult with the Sargeant family about a revised Operational Protocol.
However, I would remind everyone that there are no victors in this process.
The Sargeant family are still without a much-loved husband, father, son and brother.
A Welsh Government spokeswoman said:
We thank the court for providing clarity on what has been a complex process. We will now consider the next steps in light of today’s judgement.
Mr Sargeant’s son Jack was elected to succeed him as Alyn and Deeside AM in a by-election in February 2018.An inquest into his death has opened, but was adjourned after it was found some evidence was contradictory. It is expected to resume in July.
Ein Gwlad Comment:
Despite it’s seriousness and given the circumstances, this story should have hugged the headlines in Wales this week, instead it hardly broke into a ripple as it surfaced. We know the current obsession with the ‘Monkey Cage’ in Westminster drowns all other news these days – which we are all sick to death of hearing, with wall to wall coverage every hour and every day of the week. However, we tend to think that there was a cynical little agenda to keep this story as quiet as possible (especially among the Labour dominated press and media in Wales). Probably due to it’s bad reflection on our rotten political system in Cardiff Docks.
There are two groups of people where you find an above average numbers of slimy, devious and underhanded people – politicians that represent the unionist establishment and some solicitors! We’ll say no more – work out for yourself who we are referring. Here’s a clue – he’s apolitician and a trained barrister.
Recently retired Consultant Electronics Engineer, now living in Aberaeron Ceredigion. Educated at Bronant County Primary School, Tregaron County School and the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology (Cardiff).
Involved in politics for nearly 50 years. Former vice president of Plaid Cymru – resigned in 2002. Currently the Chairman and a founding member of Ein Gwlad. Gwilym is also one of our permanent contributing editors at Ein Gwlad’s News Portal.