A Government minister behaved lawfully when he overturned a ruling by judges and halted the publication of letters written by Prince Charles to his predecessors, the highest court in Britain was told.
Nine years after the so-called “black spider” memos written by the heir to the throne to Labour ministers were first requested by a journalist, the Supreme Court has begun to hear the latest round in attempts to bring the prince’s lobbying of Government into the public domain.
The Court of Appeal ruled earlier this year that Dominic Grieve QC had had “no good reason” to prevent the letters being made public when as Attorney General he blocked an order from three judges on an independent tribunal ordering their release.
At the start of a two-day hearing before seven Supreme Court justices, lawyers for the current Attorney General, Jeremy Wright QC, argued that the Court of Appeal had “erred” and failed to recognise that Parliament had reserved for ministers the ultimate say in deciding when information can be released in the public interest.
James Eadie QC, for the Government, said that Freedom of Information laws had been framed so that an “accountable person” in the shape of a senior minister could ultimately veto a decision of the Information Tribunal, the court which rules on FoI disputes.
In pictures: Prince Charles's most controversial moments
In pictures: Prince Charles's most controversial moments
1/10 Princely influence
The Prince of Wales tried to influence Tony Blair’s government on issues such as grammar schools, alternative medicine and GM food, a BBC radio programme revealed.
2/10 Charles and grammar schools
David Blunkett, right, was among those who disclosed they had been contacted by the Prince of Wales. The former Education Secretary spoke about Prince Charles’ attempts to expand grammar schools, and how he 'didn’t like' it when his suggestion was refused.
3/10 Ignoring austerity
The cost of the monarchy to the taxpayer rose by nearly six per cent last year - more than double the rate of inflation. Travel costs incurred by the Prince of Wales, who has recently begun to take over official duties previously undertaken by his mother, included a £434,000 visit to India with the Duchess of Cornwall, and a charter flight to attend the funeral of Nelson Mandela which cost £246,160
4/10 The 'withered' Prince
Spain’s King Juan Carlos reportedly said the aging Prince Charles was partly his inspiration for abdicating in favour of Crown Prince Felipe (left). He was reported to have said: 'I do not want my son to wither waiting like Prince Charles'
JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images
5/10 Reforming capitalism
In May, the Prince of Wales spoke at a major conference about reforming capitalism - despite being advised not to speak on matters of public controversy. Charles' comments over the course of the month had reignited debate about the British monarchy
6/10 Putin 'acting like Hitler'
Prince Charles was claimed to have compared the actions of Russian leader Vladimir Putin to those of Adolf Hitler during a private conversation with a woman who had fled the Nazis
7/10 Australia? Take it or leave it
In April the veteran Australian journalist David Marr said the Prince of Wales once privately expressed his belief that if Australia became a republic it would be 'no skin off anyone's nose'
8/10 Satanic Verses
Prince Charles turned his back on Sir Salman Rushdie during his fatwa over publication of The Satanic Verses because he thought the book was offensive to Muslims, it was reported earlier this year. The claims were made by Martin Amis, who said Charles told him that he would not offer support 'if someone insults someone else’s deepest convictions'
Prince Charles has reportedly pushed for further research on the NHS about homeopathic remedies for a number of years. Labour MPs reacted with fury at the revelation in July 2013 that the heir to the throne had met Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, with NHS support for homeopathy believed to be on the agenda
10/10 The 'black spider letters'
The Guardian has been trying for years to secure the release of a series of 'particularly frank' letters written by Prince Charles to senior Government figures. In October 2012, the attorney-general Dominic Grieve overruled a court's decision to allow access but now, barring a successful appeal to the Supreme Court, Charles's correspondence will be revealed at last
He added: “Everyone has the right to respect for their correspondence. Such respect is necessary not only as an aspect of privacy, but also to enable freedom of expression, which would inevitably be inhibited by the removal of the right to communicate privately.
“All the more so in the case of the Prince of Wales, whose freedom to express himself publicly is constrained by his role as heir to the throne.”
The dispute is centred on 27 letters exchanged between Prince Charles and ministers in seven Whitehall departments during Tony Blair’s second Government between September 2004 and April 2005.
Named after the heir to the throne’s distinctive handwriting, the black spider memos were requested by The Guardian and have been the subject of a long-standing tussle over whether the Prince’s privacy or the public’s right to scrutinise the work of government has primacy.
The upper tribunal of the Information Tribunal ruled in 2012 that the public had a right to see the letters. But Mr Grieve overrode the finding by arguing that the documents could show Charles to be “disagreeing with Government policy” and thus be “seriously damaging” to the political neutrality expected of the monarch.
Lawyers for The Guardian will argue that the Government has failed to show any legal error made by the Information Tribunal when it ordered the disclosure and that the fact ministers disagreed with the court’s finding was not sufficient grounds to deploy a veto.
Judgment is expected at a later date.Reuse content