UK Court Rejects Secrecy for Prince Charles’ Letters

12 March 2014

The Court of Appeal in the United Kingdom March 12 ruled that the Attorney General unlawfully vetoed disclosure of Prince Charles’ letters to government ministers.

The three judge panel’s decision says the veto was incompatible with European Union environmental law.

The Guardian newspaper nine years ago requested the correspondence sent to various government agencies in 2004 and 2005.

The Upper Tribunal ordered disclosure in December 2002 under Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) and under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. The decision was praised by the Court of Appeal as “a most impressive piece of work.” (See previous report.)

Rejecting the tribunal’s decision, Attorney General Dominic Grieve argued the government could refuse disclosure because the correspondence was undertaken as part of the Prince’s “preparation for becoming king” and that their publication published they would “potentially have undermined his position of political neutrality.”

Grieve said, “The ability of the Monarch to engage with the government of the day, whatever its political colour, and maintain political neutrality is a cornerstone of the UK’s constitutional framework.” He said the 27 letters were “particularly frank.” (See previous report.)

The Attorney General March 12 said he would appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

FOIA Campaign Pleased

The Campaign for Freedom of Information welcomed the ruling.

The Campaign’s director Maurice Frankel said, “This fundamentally strengthens the public’s rights to know what public authorities are doing about environmental issues.”

Frankel also said in a statement that the FOI Act has an elaborate appeal process, which the government could have used to challenge a decision it believed was wrong. Instead it has attempted to squash the decision, bypassing the need to argue its case, by use of a veto. The court’s ruling will make it much harder for government to override a well argued tribunal case in future. Disagreeing with the decision will not be enough, it will have to show why the decision is flawed or that circumstances have changed since it was reached. That is a major improvement to the public’s right to know.”

The Campaign noted that although these letters may now have to be disclosed, subject to any appeal, Prince Charles’s subsequent correspondence will remain confidential as the FOI Act has since been amended to exclude it from access.

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