Marina Litvinenko Wins Suit Against British Government

February 18, 2014

Marina Litvinenko, the widow of former FSB spy-turned-MI6 spy Alexander Litvinenko, has won a court judgment overturning a decision by the British Home Office, which last year ruled that a public enquiry into the murder of her husband. The British government has serially repeated its reluctance to air the findings of its investigation into the high-profile polonium poisoning of Litvinenko owing to what it says are concerns related to national security and bilateral relations with Russia, whose government is widely suspected of carrying out the assassination in 2006. Below, Litvinenko family friend and Alexander’s biographer Alex Goldfarb writes about this recent decision.

The London High Court has satisfied the complaint of Marina Litvinenko, widow of Alexander Litvinenko regarding the refusal of the government to investigate the role of the Russian authorities in the murder of her husband. In a ruling published on 11 February, a panel of three judges overruled the decision of Home Minister Theresa May not to conduct a public inquiry regarding the complicity of the Russian Federation in the murder of Litvinenko, calling the government’s arguments unsubstantiated from the legal and logical point of view. The court gave May until 14 February to decide whether she was going to appeal the 11 February decision or review her position.

In a statement for the press, Marina Litvinenko said, “I am happy with today’s decision. We always said that the government’s arguments against a full-fledged investigation of the role of the Russian government were pointless. Now the High Court has agreed with this. I have always had faith in British justice and today’s decision confirmed this. I cannot understand why the British government needs to cover for people in the Kremlin who ordered the murder of my husband. After all, ideally the government is supposed to be interested in finding out who is behind the murder of a British citizen on the streets of London and the use of radioactive poison. Now the decision is up to Theresa May. I want to ask her as one woman to another: how would she feel in my place? If her husband were murdered in such a horrible way, would she not want to know the whole truth? I call on Theresa May to concur with the decision of the High Court and begin an investigation that would determine whether the Russian government is behind the murder of Sasha.”


A public inquiry is a special form of British proceeding in which the government appoints an independent investigative commission for an inquiry into a case of particular public interest. In a public inquiry, whose members have access to classified materials, it is possible to review both open and secret information.

As is known, another judicial proceeding has been under way in London for more than a year in the case of Litvinenko – the judicial inquiry (inquest) regarding the fact of his death. The difference between the two norms of justice is that in the inquest, the law does not provide for closed hearings, and therefore the secret part of the case cannot be reviewed.

The idea of re-qualifying the inquest into a public inquiry belongs to Sir Robert Owen, a judge appointed assistant deputy coroner in Litvinenko’s case, who is familiar with the secret documents in the case. Sir Robert came to the conclusion that there is evidence in these documents of the complicity of Russian Federation government agencies in the murder. Since this evidence is classified, and cannot be reviewed in an inquest, Sir Robert removed from the agenda of his inquiry the topic of Russia’s complicity and proposed that the government convene a “public inquiry” in order to review it. After the Home Minister refused to do this, Marina Litvinenko filed suit against her decision in court.