Bid to keep parts of prince’s letters to ministers secret

Note: This article is from the Guardian.

Powered by article titled “Prince Charles letters: bid to keep parts of missives to ministers secret” was written by Rob Evans, for The Guardian on Friday 12th October 2012 13.30 UTC

Seven government departments have launched a last-ditch legal attempt to keep secret portions of confidential letters written by Prince Charles to ministers.

The legal manoeuvre was initiated shortly before they lost a long-running tribunal, which ordered that, for the first time, the prince's letters should be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act.

The three judges sitting in the FoI tribunal decided in September that the public had a right to know how the prince seeks to change government policy behind the scenes.

The government departments' latest move comes after they had already spent seven years resisting the disclosure of the letters.

The long battle started in 2005 when the Guardian submitted freedom of information requests to see copies of the prince's letters to ministers over a seven-month period.

The prince has for some years been criticised for "meddling" in government affairs and seeking to persuade ministers to alter policy.

He is believed to write to ministers arguing his personal point of view in letters which have become known as "black spider memos" because of his handwriting.

It has been reported that his interventions have included complaints about "politically correct interference" in people's lives and the threat of an American-style personal injury culture becoming prevalent in Britain.

Critics say he should stay out of government policy as he is not democratically elected.

Last month, the FoI tribunal ruled that copies of correspondence between the prince and ministers in the seven departments over the seven-month period in 2004 and 2005 should be disclosed.

The tribunal, led by Mr Justice Walker, decided that the "essential reason" for disclosing the letters "is that it will generally be in the overall public interest for there to be transparency as to how and when Prince Charles seeks to influence government".

The judges ordered that the letters should be handed over to the Guardian, unless ministers decide to lodge an appeal by next Thursday.

Over the course of two years, the tribunal had heard evidence on whether the letters should be released to the public.

Just before the government departments were defeated at the tribunal, they decided to raise another legal issue which they had not explicitly argued before – that parts of the letters which relate to the privacy of unspecified individuals other than the prince should be blacked out. It is unclear who these individuals are or how extensive the references to them in the letters are.

Lawyers for the Guardian had argued that "this belatedly raised issue" should be ignored as the government had failed to make this argument at any point in the past seven years.

"No explanation has been provided … as to why the issue has only been raised for the first time now, well past the 11th hour, when it cannot have escaped the departments' legal advisers for this long," they argued.

In a ruling published on Friday, the judges in the tribunal have decided that if the government departments do not lodge an appeal, it will spend more time deciding whether those parts of the letters concerning the privacy of these other individuals should be kept secret. That could delay the disclosure of those portions of the letters. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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One thought on “Bid to keep parts of prince’s letters to ministers secret

  1. I don’t believe that there is any compelling reason to release Prince Charles’s letters to government ministers due to the fact that according to the freedome of information act amendments in the constitution act of 2010, these letters could be made public after 20 years or five years afterthe death of prince Charles assuming he does not outlive his mother. As for the critics who say that the prince should have no role in government policy, they forget that when he becomesking he will have the constitutional right to be counsulted, to encourage, and to warn his government. It seems to me that through these letters, Prince Charles is preparing to exercise his constitutional rights as king. Perhaps these critics should read Bagehot’s the english constitution or Vernon Bogdanor’s the monarchy and the constitution. Finally, while the monarchy must remain politically neutral, the idea that anyone who is not elected should not have a say in government policy is flawed. It would mean the civil servants who are not elected could not advise the government. It would further increase the power of the political class who far to often manipulate the voters.

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