Fresh challenge to Charles’s secret communications with ministers

It is the latest in a series of attempts to expose the prince’s interactions with ministers using freedom of information laws.

Note: This article is from the Guardian.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Prince Charles faces fresh challenge to secret communications with ministers” was written by Robert Booth, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 3rd December 2013 18.20 UTC

Prince Charles is to face a fresh challenge to his secret communication channel to government ministers when a court is asked to reveal whether he lobbied for an exemption to property laws affecting his £800m estate.

Alan Davis, 71, one of his leasholders on the Isles of Scilly, will appeal to a judge on Wednesday to rule on whether information should be published detailing how the prince’s aides communicated with government before securing special treatment for the Duchy of Cornwall in leasehold laws.

Davis, a former oil executive, wants the right to buy the freehold to his 1960s bungalow on St Mary’s. But he has been told he cannot because the duchy was partially exempted from laws that give leaseholders in England and Wales that right.

He wants to know what the prince or his aides said to ministers ahead of securing the 1992 exemption without “consultation, debate or discussion”. The arrangement also applies to duchy leaseholders living on Dartmoor and in Newton St Loe, near Bath, where one leaseholder said on Tuesday night it was “completely unjust”.

The leaseholders complain that the “archaic” anomaly leaves them facing financial uncertainty as the resale value of their homes dwindles with no prospect of buying outright ownership.

The appeal to an information tribunal is the latest in a series of attempts to expose the prince’s interactions with ministers using freedom of information (FOI) laws.

In January, Whitehall papers were finally released that showed at least 39 bills have been subject to a little-known power wielded by Prince Charles and the Queen to consent to or block new laws.

Davis wants to see letters between the prince and his aides, and ministers. But he has so far been thwarted by prohibitions in the Freedom of Information Act against the release of information that “relates to communications with the heir to the throne”. The same rule was invoked to withhold publication of 29 “black spider memos” from the prince to ministers in Tony Blair’s government. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), which is refusing to release the documents, said “disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of [the prince's] privacy”.

Davis’s 1961 home in the garrison in St Mary’s has 46 years to run on its lease. He has no intention to move, but is concerned that with a shortening lease he will be unable to raise loans against the property if he needs to pay for medical care in old age.

His case will go before a first tier information tribunal judge sitting in Truro, Cornwall. He claims the prince and the duchy have gained financially from avoiding the obligation to sell freehold rights to leaseholders and believes Charles may be in breach of the Human Rights Act “by using his position of privilege to negotiate a position for his personal financial benefit to the detriment of other citizens”.

Davis argues in his written submission that the rule exempting the government from releasing correspondence with the heir to the throne should not apply in this instance because the prince, in his capacity as the Duke of Cornwall, oversees a private estate.

In its submission, lawyers for the DCLG said it does not matter whether the duchy is a public or private estate, because that exemption applies to the prince himself. It said the release of the information, obtained from the prince’s advisers or the crown estate commissioners would also constitute a breach of confidence and could result in legal action against the department.

A spokeswoman for the duchy declined to comment on the details of the case, but said: “Leaseholders can purchase their freeholds across the majority of the duchy estate. For those few leaseholders who aren’t able to buy their freeholds, provision has been made for them to extend their lease up to 100 years to enable tenants to remain in their properties for a lifetime.”

Jane Giddins, a leaseholder in Newton St Loe who is prevented from buying the freehold, said when she bought her home she “naively assumed something so patently unjust would be corrected” and said it was wrong that it has not been when the rest of the population of England and Wales has the right.

Davis said the duchy has given several reasons for refusing to allow the leaseholders on the garrison to buy the freeholds. These include not wanting the area to contain second homes and maintaining the historic integrity of the area. But he said the duchy lets out four holiday homes there, the 1960s homes are not historic or architecturally important and the garrison is in no danger of from heritage or environmental vandalism as the Isles of Scilly is a conservation area and administered as an area of outstanding natural beauty.

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