A Cuppa Media: Prince Charles and the letters

Written by Alex Veeneman

In 2005, The Guardian filed a Freedom of Information request regarding 27 letters written by the Prince of Wales between September 2004 and April 2005.

In 2005, The Guardian filed a Freedom of Information request regarding 27 letters written by the Prince of Wales between September 2004 and April 2005. The letters are said to contain opinions held by Prince Charles on the subject of government policy, on issues that are important to him.

The Attorney General at the time, Dominic Grieve, acting for the government, declined to make the letters public due to concerns regarding the effect of political impartiality with the Prince, something that most members of the Royal Family exercise. Prince Charles has been accused previously of wanting to influence government policy.

The Guardian had appealed the decision, and in 2012, an independent tribunal ruled for the release of the letters, according to a Guardian report on the subject. Yet, Grieve used a veto to block the publication of the letters.

‘Preserving confidentiality’

This past March, an appeals court decision said the veto was unlawful, and Grieve said the government would appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Attorney General’s Office confirmed that papers on an appeal were filed, and Cheryl Walmsley, a spokeswoman for the UK Supreme Court, reached by email, confirmed to Kettle that the appeal requested would be heard on the 24th and 25th of November. Jeremy Wright would speak for the government, as Dominic Grieve left the post after the cabinet reshuffle earlier this year.

In an emailed statement, a government spokesperson said the requested letters should remain private.

“The Government firmly believes in the importance of preserving the confidentiality of communications between the Heir to the Throne and the government,” the spokesperson said. “In this case the Attorney General concluded that the correspondence assisted The Prince in preparing for the exercise of his future role as Monarch and that which would be endangered without confidentiality.”

Reached by telephone, a spokesperson for Guardian News and Media said the paper maintained the letters requested are in the public interest.

A spokesperson for Clarence House, reached by telephone, declined to comment.

A new debate

With this appeal, this now continues the debate on whether the letters should be released, and to a wider extent, treatment of the Royals, including Prince Charles. Reached by telephone, Camilla Tominey, the Royal Editor of the Sunday Express, said this was a distinct debate when it came to transparency and the Royals.

“Normally there is a lot of transparency when it comes to reviewing the accounts,” Tominey said. “Prince Philip said royals shouldn’t be a secret society.”

Tominey says that the Royals should be held to the same scrutiny as that of MPs or government ministers.

“They need to be subject to the same scrutiny as everyone else,” Tominey said, adding that by keeping the information secret, it looks dodgier than releasing it. “In the long run, transparency is king.”

Indeed, Tominey says, the decision may also have an effect on the media coverage of the Royals, specifically the ability to give more requests under Freedom of Information.

“Let’s hear what he’s got to say,” Tominey said.

This appeal is due to settle the debate of public interest with these letters. Additionally, the decision may also reveal more about Prince Charles and his beliefs. This appeal is one to be watched carefully, as it may have long term effects on not just access to information, but on journalism as well.

What do you think? Should the letters written by Prince Charles be made public? Have your say in the comments section below.

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