The Azelle Rodney Inquiry is a public inquiry into the death of Mr Rodney, who was shot by a police officer during a “hard stop” on 30 April 2005. A public inquiry chaired by Sir Christopher Holland was set up because of the need to consider “secret evidence”, which could not be disclosed to a Coroner or explored before a jury in an Article 2 ECHR compliant Coroner’s Inquest.

The inquiry was announced in March 2010, opened in October 2010 but only commenced hearing evidence in September 2012. The Government has already accepted that it breached Mr Rodney’s mother’s Article 2 ECHR procedural right by taking so long to carry out a full investigation into Mr Rodney’s death – see the European Court of Human Rights decision in Alexander v UK (23276/09).

Sensitive evidence continues to be a difficult issue even in the context of the public inquiry. In R (Metropolitan Police Service) v the Chairman of the Inquiry into the Death of Azelle Rodney [2012] EWHA 2783 (Admin) the Court said that the inquiry had been “bedevilled by delays largely the consequences of statutory limitation on the disclosure of intelligence material”.

The case concerned the disclosure of aerial surveillance footage of Mr Rodney’s movements in the two hours before up to his death.

The Metropolitan Police made an application for restrictions, pursuant to s.19 of the Inquiries Act 2005 (which provides for a form of Public Interest Immunity), to exclude the public and the press from the inquiry during examinationof the footage from the Met’s aerial surveillance platform. This was on the basis that public disclosure would jeopardise the success of future operations, by making public that the platform was available to the police as one of the means at their disposal to detect and prevent crime

Mr Rodney’s mother made an application under r.12 of the Inquiry Rules 2006 for disclosure of the footage for the purpose of considering the Met’s s.19 application. The Chairman ordered disclosure of the footage to Mr Rodney’s mother over the Met’s objection and the Met challenged the Chairman’s ruling by way of judicial review. That challenge failed. The Administrative Court (Pitchford LJ, Foskett J and HHJ Peter Thornton QC) found no fault in the Chairman’s ruling that, pursuant to r.12(4)(a) of the Inquiry Rules 2006 it was “necessary for the determination of the application” (namely the Met’s s.19 application) to give disclosure the footage to Mr Rodney’s family’s legal team to allow them to participate in that application.

Although the Met was unsuccessful on the facts of the case, the Court did explain that where disclosure (even limited disclosure) is not necessary for the determination of a Public Interest Immunity application, Article 2 ECHR did not require that disclosure be given. The Court said at [43] that: 

“It is well recognised in the ECtHR that Art 2 does not necessarily require the disclosure of sensitive information to next of kin, and the requisite access to the investigation’s procedures may take place by other means (Ramsahai and Others v Netherlands (Case 52391/99) [2008] 46 EHRR 43 at paragraphs 347 and 348).”