Commoners may decide in Diana and Dodi inquest
Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, a former High Court judge, at the Royal
Courts of Justice in London for the first day of the hearing
following Lord Stevens' report into the death of Princess Diana.
Ordinary Britons, who are divided on whether Princess Diana and her
boyfriend were the victims of an accident or murder, may be called to
give the official verdict on her death, a judge ruled last week.
Nearly a decade after Diana and Dodi Fayed died in a car crash in
Paris, the legal proceedings surrounding their deaths resumed at
London's Royal Courts of Justice.
The hearing was procedural, and no evidence was heard by Baroness
Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, a retired senior judge. Diana's sons, Princes
William and Harry, were not present, but Butler-Sloss read out a letter
filed on their behalf.
Sons hope inquest is swift"It is their desire that the inquest should
not only be open, fair and transparent but that it should move swiftly
to a conclusion," said the letter, written by Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton,
private secretary to the princes. It's likely the inquest which must be
held when someone dies violently, unexpectedly or of unknown causes will
begin in May.
One of the issues the hearing was attempting to resolve was whether
the inquest would have a jury and, if so, what form it would take.
Because Diana was a royal, British law states that an inquest jury
should be empanelled from the royal household.
But Sir John Nutting, representing Queen Elizabeth II, said a jury
made up exclusively of royal household or staff members could lead to
doubts about its trustworthiness. Pressure from Dodi's father Butler-Sloss
agreed. She has not yet ruled out having a jury of ordinary citizens, or
presiding over the inquests alone.
Mohamed Al Fayed, Dodi's father and the owner of Harrods department
store, pressed authorities to hold Monday's hearings in public and had
threatened legal action if they did not.
Al Fayed has accused the queen's husband, Prince Philip, of
orchestrating a plot to murder Diana and Fayed. Philip has never
responded to the accusation.
Last year, a sweeping British police inquiry dismissed allegations
the princess was the victim of a murder conspiracy. The inquiry said the
chauffeur in the 1997 crash was drunk and driving at a high speed to
elude photographers. The report largely confirmed French findings.