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Prince journals row to go to trial

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Prince Charles had sued for breach of copyright and confidentiality.

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Prince Charles
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Imperial, Royal Matters

LONDON, England -- Britain's Prince Charles won a partial victory on Friday in a bitter legal battle to stop a newspaper publishing further details from his private journals -- but the matter must now go to a trial.

The ruling triggered speculation the prince could be called to testify. But Charles' office said the heir to the throne would not take the witness stand.

"The Prince of Wales will never give evidence even if it goes to a full trial," said his private secretary, Michael Peat.

Peat said the outcome of the case was "excellent" for Charles and predicted the next hearing would only be a brief one.

The heir to the throne had sued the Mail on Sunday newspaper for publishing extracts of a journal covering a trip to Asia for the 1997 handover of the British colony of Hong Kong to China during which he referred to Chinese officials as "appalling old waxworks."

The ruling in London's High Court means that the newspaper is banned from publishing further extracts from the Hong Kong journal but there must now be another hearing in respect of possible publication of extracts from seven other journals.

Mr. Justice Blackburne had been urged by the prince's lawyers to rule against the paper and hold that he was entitled to avoid a full trial with witnesses.

The judge said it was now open to the prince to claim for damages in respect of the Hong Kong journal and an injunction to prevent further infringement of his copyright, the UK's Press Association reported.

But because the prince has to take claims over the other, unpublished journals to a full trial, he could face having to give evidence in the witness box and cross-examination by the Mail on Sunday's lawyer.

The prince had wanted "summary judgment," thereby avoiding a full trial, on all the matters.

Charles' office, however, said the prince would not be required to testify in the next stage of the case, which it expected to be brief.

"The judge has indicated that he would like to read the journals before reaching a final decision. This will entail a short further hearing on points of law," said Peat, principal private secretary to Charles and his wife, Camilla.

"The Prince of Wales will not be required to give evidence. In short, an excellent outcome," Peat said in a statement released by St. James' Palace.

The row blew up over the British heir to the throne's habit of writing journals on foreign trips to send to his friends and family.

Lawyer Hugh Tomlinson argued at a hearing last month that his royal client was entitled to keep those private thoughts and observations secret. Arguments that the journals should be published in the public interest were "far fetched," he said.

He said the prince was entitled to succeed in his claim that the Mail on Sunday breached his confidentiality and copyright when it published extracts from the Hong Kong journal.

The Mail on Sunday replied that the journals should be published "in the public interest."

If he had won the case fully, the prince would have been entitled to the return of seven other journals he made on state visits abroad which were copied and handed over to the newspaper by a "disloyal" former employee, the UK's Press Association reported.

The Mail on Sunday said in statement: "We believe our report and this legal action both raise very serious questions about the constitutional role of the heir to the throne and the freedom of the press.

"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.

"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."

Last month, Prime Minister Tony Blair defended the prince, saying the heir to the throne is entitled to express his views and has never taken sides in party politics.

One of the eight journals in the hands of the Mail on Sunday newspaper -- extracts from which have already been published -- was released by the prince's lawyers during the case after applications by the media.

The extract, covering a trip to Asia for the handover of the British colony of Hong Kong to China, is entitled "The Handover of Hong Kong" or "The Great Chinese Takeaway." (Watch what the prince said about Chinese diplomats -- 2:14)

In evidence given in February, Mark Bolland, a former aide, told the court the prince saw himself as a "dissident" and had boycotted a 1999 Chinese Embassy banquet out of respect for Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Both Charles's lawyer and Peat, the current private secretary, have denied the prince boycotted the banquet. Bolland worked for the prince for six years and resigned in 2002 amid media reports of a clash with Peat.

The extracts in the Mail on Sunday revealed Charles had described Chinese officials as "appalling old waxworks" and called an official ceremony "an awful Soviet style display."

Charles' representatives argued the journal was passed to the newspaper without permission. The Mail on Sunday has said publishing leaked documents is a "classic journalistic enterprise."

The full text of the journal appeared to amplify concerns about parts of the Chinese establishment.

"All the locals were being outwardly thoroughly optimistic about the immediate future but in the background was the sneaking worry about creeping corruption and the gradual undermining of Hong Kong's greatest strength -- the rule of law," he wrote.

"Apparently in China itself the army is heavily involved in pretty corrupt business practice, so one can only hope they are confined to barracks in Hong Kong."

After leaving Hong Kong, the prince visited the Philippines. He describes Manila as "an awful, smelly polluted harbor absolutely clogged with filth and rubbish."

But he also stated: "The Philippines were incredibly friendly and warm-hearted and pleased to see the British."

He praised Blair, saying, "he is a most enjoyable person to talk to -- perhaps partly due to his being younger than me!

"He also gives the impression of listening to what one says, which I find astounding," the prince writes.

'End of Empire'

Charles was suing for breach of copyright and confidentiality in a case aimed at determining whether members of the British royal family are entitled to the same level of privacy as ordinary members of the public.

The Mail on Sunday argued the public is entitled to know the heir to the throne's political views. Its lawyer said he could not expect these views to remain private as he is "not a person who has acted with discretion or reticence."

The journal also features comments about seating on his journey to Hong Kong on a British Airways 747 with officials from Britain.

He said he found himself and his staff "on the top deck in what is normally club class."

"It took me some time to realize that this was not first class(!) although it puzzled me as to why the seat seemed so uncomfortable."

He said he then discovered that other dignitaries were all "ensconced in First Class immediately below us." "Such is the end of Empire, I sighed to myself," he writes.

Members of the royal family have rarely appeared in court.

Charles' sister, Princess Anne, was in court in 2002 to plead guilty to a charge that one of her dogs attacked two children.

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

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