Correspondence between Prince Charles and government ministers - which is believed to detail attempts by the heir to the throne to influence government policy - must be published, an appeal court has ruled.
Judges decided that releasing the Prince’s letters, the first time such an order has been made, was in the public interest, saying there should be openness over any sway the Prince seeks to hold over government.
The order marks the culmination of a seven year fight. Judges ruled unanimously in favour of “disclosure of ‘advocacy correspondence’” sent by the Prince to seven government departments.
They said: “The essential reason 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 appeal court’s decision followed a steadfast refusal to release the documents requested by Rob Evans of the Guardian newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act.
Mr Evans hailed the ruling yesterday. He said: “The judges are clearly saying that it is in the public interest. We have no idea what the Queen’s political position is, she has never spoken about it.
“The whole case is about someone who is unelected and what influence they have over government. There have been quiet murmurings about what he lobbies on, but the great thing about the legislation is that you can use it to get the actual copies of the letters and let the public decide for themselves.
Correspondence from 2004 and 2005 between Prince Charles and: the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; the Department of Health; the Department for Children, Schools and Families (now named the Department for Education) must all be released.
The ruling also relates to letters from the same time period from the Prince to: the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; the Department for Culture, Media and Sport; the Northern Ireland Office and the Cabinet Office.
The information commissioner previously refused to release the details but the Administrative Appeals Chamber said the commissioner gave “insufficient weight to the public interest”.
The Whitehall departments argued that a decision to release the Prince’s letters would breach unwritten constitutional rules on the relationship between the monarchy and the government, and that it would discourage the prince from speaking frankly, the Associated Press reported.
The Prince has openly supported a range of causes, including the design of the £3bn Chelsea barracks redevelopment, in which a High Court judge said his intervention was “unexpected and unwelcome”. Mr Justice Vos said that his meddling placed the Qatari royal family, who owned the site, in “an impossible position”. He added that Prince Charles exerted an influence over elected politicians asked to decide on the plans’ merits.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “We have received the Tribunal’s decision and are considering it and will respond in due course.” A spokesman for Clarence House refused to comment.