Win some, lose some, even the royal family. Prince Charles lost one
in court today, even as his son Prince William was scoring a court
victory in France.
A panel of British judges ruled that some
confidential letters the Prince of Wales has written to government
ministers in past years, occasionally expressing strongly-held opinions
on controversial topics, should be made public in the interest of
transparency, according to the Associated Press.
The ruling came
on the day that Charles' son and daughter-in-law, Prince William and
Duchess Kate, won an injunction in a French court against a French
magazine that had published topless photos of the duchess. The magazine
was ordered to hand over the digital images and was blocked from
publishing any more.
Prince Charles' letters to ministers had been sought by The Guardian,
the left-leaning daily newspaper, seeking to shed light on how and
under what circumstances the heir to the throne attempts to influence
politicians and government policy. Charles' letters, called "black
spider memos" because of his handwriting, were treated by recipients
with reverence and as a top priority, according to testimony.
government had fought the newspaper's freedom of information request for
seven years, arguing that it would break with unwritten convention,
discourage the prince from speaking freely, and undermine his education
in the functioning of government in preparation for when he becomes
king. Charles is 63.
Under Britain's unwritten constitution, in
which custom and precedent play crucial roles, the sovereign can't
meddle in government and politics, certainly not in public. But the
sovereign can exercise influence, depending on context and
Queen Elizabeth II has long followed these rules
scrupulously; few know her opinions. But her heir is famous for having
lots of opinions, especially about art, architecture and the
environment, and over the years he has expressed them in missives to
ministers. According to testimony, he criticized political correctness
and bemoaned the development of an American-style litigation culture in
the UK in some letters.
Although some of the contents of the
letters have leaked over the years, this is the first time the
government has been ordered to publish those dating from the years 2004
and 2005. The government may appeal.
Meanwhile, any future
letters from Charles will remain secret because the government last year
set up a blanket ban on his correspondence being disclosed, regardless
of whether it is in the public interest.