Attorney General blocks release of Prince Charles influence letters
The government has blocked the release of 27 letters written by Prince Charles in which he has sought to influence government policy and agenda. Attorney General Dominic Grieve made the decision after government departments lost a freedom of information tribunal case over the release of the letters. Grieve said the letters contained the "particularly frank" and "most deeply held personal views and beliefs" of the prince.
This ruling by the AG means an absolute block has been imposed on disclosure of the Prince’s letters. The decision comes after seven government departments lost a long-running freedom of information tribunal over the disclosure of the letters. The veto overrides last month's ruling by the tribunal that the public had a right to know how the prince sought to change government policy.
Adam Tomkins, a law professor at the University of Glasgow, previously had testified that the Prince had lobbied on "the perceived merits of holistic medicine, the perceived evils of genetically modified crops, the apparent dangers of making cuts in the armed forces, his strong dislike of certain forms of architecture (leading him to make high-profile interventions in a number of contested planning developments), a range of issues relating to agricultural policy". The Information Commissioner had ruled that the balance of interests had fallen in favour of the public at the expense of breaching the Prince's confidence.
The prince had argued that the release of the letters would have affected his "political neutrality" and that "it would clearly not be in the public interest if the heir to [the] throne and future Monarch appeared to be politically partisan." The complainant in the original Information Commissioner tribunal, the Guardian Newspaper, had argued that there was a "strong and legitimate public concern that the Prince engages in lobbying and that his views may have an inappropriate or disproportionate effect on government policy and/or government's handling of specific issues."
"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."
Paul Richards, a special adviser to Labour, told the tribunal that letters from the Prince went "to the top of the pile" and "treated with great reverence." The evidence, showed "Prince Charles using his access to government ministers, and no doubt considering himself entitled to use that access, in order to set up and drive forward charities and promote views, but not as part of his preparation for kingship … Ministers responded, and no doubt felt themselves obliged to respond, but again not as part of Prince Charles's preparation for kingship." In a 126-page ruling the law justices acknowledged that some people "fear, among other things, that disclosure would damage our constitutional structures". However, they dismissed arguments put forward by the Whitehall departments as having a "strong air of unreality" and "difficult to pin down."
After the tribunal ruled the letters should be made public, the Attorney General vetoed the disclosure and now the court has backed the Attorney General's decision. The Lord Chief Justice, accompanied by Lord Justice Davis and Mr Justice Globe, dismissed the challenge finding that Grieve had acted in the public interest in a "proper and rational way". However, the justices warned that the power of ministers under the FoI Act to issue a veto and override a decision reached by judges raised "troublesome concerns". The Attorney General's decision to override a decision of the courts effectively means that ministers could ignore a ruling by Courts.