Charles faces court date to keep diaries secret

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The Independent Online

The Prince of Wales may have to face cross-examination in court after he lost the first round in his legal battle to stop a newspaper publishing more extracts from his personal journals.

A judge ruled yesterday that if the Prince wants to win an injunction against The Mail on Sunday he must argue his case at a full trial. Mr Justice Blackburne rejected the Prince's attempt to strike out the newspaper's defence, saying that the arguments should be heard in public.

The ruling raises the prospect of the heir to the throne making an appearance in the witness box where he would be forced to answer questions about his attempts to influence government policy.

But the judge granted the Prince an injunction to stop further publication of his Hong Kong diary written in 1997 at the time of the handover of the British colony to China. Newspapers have already reported that the Prince described Chinese leaders as "appalling old waxworks" and complained about not being able to travel first class on the flight to Hong Kong.

Mr Justice Blackburne heard that the Prince often wrote journals during foreign trips to send to his friends and family, like other people wrote letters, and that he was entitled to keep those thoughts and observations private.

During the court hearing, one of the Prince's key advisers described the inner workings of the Prince's private office and claimed that he saw himself as a "political dissident".

Associated Newspapers, the publisher of The Mail on Sunday, said it would be seeking an appeal against the decision not to take the Hong Kong journal issue to a full hearing and it claims that their story raisesimportant questions about press freedom.

"It cannot be legitimate for the Prince to claim the right to engage in political controversy and, at the same time, deny the public the right to know that he is doing so," Associated said in a statement.

"These issues will be heard not only in our appeal over the Hong Kong journal, but also in the trial relating to the other seven journals which the judge has agreed we should retain."

Members of the Royal Family have rarely appeared before the bench. Charles's sister, the Princess Royal, was in court, in Slough, Berkshire, in 2002 to plead guilty to a charge that her dog, Dotty, bit two children.

Queen Victoria's heir, the future King Edward VII, gave evidence in a divorce case in 1870 when, as Prince of Wales, he was accused of being a lover of Lady Mordaunt. In 1891, the prince testified on behalf of a friend, William Gordon-Cumming, who had been accused of cheating at baccarat.

The Prince's private secretary, Sir Michael Peat, said yesterday it is unlikely that Charles will give evidence in a full trial. "There are no points of fact in this and no one is disputing he wrote the journals. He is not a lawyer and therefore there is no reason for him to appear," he said.

A specialist in media law said that Charles could not be forced to testify in the case, but suggested that the Prince could not win otherwise. "There's absolutely no way the Prince can bring home this case successfully without giving evidence under oath to explain his actions," said Mark Stephens, a partner in the London media and entertainment law firm of Finers Stephens Innocent.

Mr Stephens, who is not involved in the case, added: "If he were anyone else in the country, he would be cross-examined."