Belfast Telegraph

Charles letters fight hots up

No reason to keep 'meddling' memos secret, court rules

By Cahal Milmo

The Attorney General has refused to surrender in his efforts to block the publication of candid letters from Prince Charles (below) to Government ministers – despite suffering a major legal defeat.

The correspondence between the heir to the throne and Whitehall includes letters from Charles to the Northern Ireland Office.

Dominic Grieve, the Government's most senior law adviser, was told by the Court of Appeal he had "no good reason" for using his ministerial veto and overriding the decision of an independent tribunal, chaired by a High Court judge, in favour of disclosure.

The latest judgment was handed down by Lord Dyson, the head of the civil judiciary in England and Wales. It was the latest twist in a nine-year battle to force the disclosure of the letters on the grounds that attempts by the future king to influence policy or ministerial decisions should be a matter of public record.

Mr Grieve, who deployed a rarely used power under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act to block publication, ensured that the wrangle will continue for at least another year. He said he intends to take his argument that disclosure of the letters would have serious constitutional implications to the Supreme Court. The Guardian and one of its journalists, Rob Evans, won a ruling in 2012 by the Upper Tribunal of the Information Commissioner, the High Court body which sits on FoI disputes, that 27 pieces of correspondence to seven departments written by the Prince of Wales between 2005 and 2006 should be disclosed.

The departments include the Cabinet Office, the Department of Education and the Northern Ireland Office.

The "black spider memos" from Charles to ministers, named after his inky handwriting, have been the subject of speculation that the prince has in the past crossed the line in his official role of consulting the Government of the day in preparation for his future role as monarch into direct lobbying. Mr Grieve, who conceded that the letters to Tony Blair's ministers were "particularly frank", argued that their contents could be interpreted as showing the prince voicing disapproval of Government policy and thus undermine the convention that the monarch is politically neutral.

A month after the Upper Tribunal ruling, the Attorney General issued a "certificate" annulling its ruling and saying the departments had been legally entitled to refuse disclosure because the correspondence was part of the Prince's "preparation for becoming king".

In a statement, the Attorney General's office said it will be "pursuing" a Supreme Court appeal.

BACKGROUND

Prince Charles is known for his strong opinions on the environment and farming to complementary medicine and architecture. But he has faced accusations in the past of "meddling" in politics and criticism over his "black spider memos" – his hand-written letters he pens to government ministers expressing his views.

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