03:14 - Source: CNN
Prince Charles' secret letters published

Story highlights

Letters from Prince Charles to officials must be released after a Supreme Court judgment

Britain's Guardian newspaper fought for 10 years to have the documents made public

Clarence House and Prime Minister David Cameron call the decision disappointing

London CNN  — 

Previously secret correspondence between Britain’s Prince Charles and government officials is to be made public after a Supreme Court ruling Thursday.

The Guardian newspaper had been fighting for the communications to be released since 2005. Charles is next in line to the British throne and as King would constitutionally be required to maintain strict political neutrality. Some commentators say letters to officials suggest he could be a “meddling king,” attempting to influence politicians.

After the judgment was released Thursday, Guardian Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger said the paper was “delighted” about the Supreme Court’s decision after what he said was a “brilliant 10-year campaign by Guardian reporter Rob Evans.”

“The government wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to cover up these letters, admitting their publication would ‘seriously damage’ perceptions of the Prince’s political neutrality. Now they must publish them so that the public can make their own judgment,” Rusbridger said.

Max Foster, CNN’s royal correspondent, says the letters are part of a broader discussion about the role of the heir to the throne.

“These were private letters, never meant for public consumption, which is why the Prince’s office has resisted their release,” he said. “But they play into a much bigger debate about the role of monarchy. Should Charles be getting involved in politics at all when, as head of state, he’ll be expected to be politically neutral? He’s not in that position yet so feels he has some leeway.”

‘Disappointing’ judgment

Prime Minister David Cameron said the judgment was “disappointing” and the government would now look at how to release the letters.

“This is about the principle that senior members of the royal family are able to express their views to government confidentially. I think most people would agree this is fair enough,” he said.

Cameron suggested the legislation might need revision in light of the decision: “Our FOI (freedom of information) laws specifically include the option of a governmental veto, which we exercised in this case for a reason. If the legislation does not make Parliament’s intentions for the veto clear enough, then we will need to make it clearer.”

The Prince’s official residence, Clarence House, issued a brief statement about the decision.

“This is a matter for the government. Clarence House is disappointed the principle of privacy has not been upheld.”

The anti-monarchy group Republic welcomed the news but warned that 2010 changes to the Freedom of Information Act to remove the public interest clause put future releases at risk.

“The government must now act to end royal secrecy. Any risk to the monarchy must pale against a risk to democracy from having an activist prince acting in secret,” CEO Graham Smith said. “We can’t have a situation where we don’t know what influence Charles is having on government policy.”

In a statement issued on the eve of the decision, Smith branded the monarchy one of Britain’s “most secretive institutions.” “Charles clearly has his own political agenda, yet his name won’t be on the ballot in May. So we all need to know what influence he is trying to exert and what impact he is having on policy.”

The legal battle

Evans, the Guardian reporter, had been fighting a legal battle to get the letters published since 2005 when he requested disclosure of communications between Charles and various government departments under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act and environmental regulations.

After the departments and the information commissioner denied his requests, Evans appealed to the Information Tribunal, which referred the matter to the Upper Tribunal.

The Guardian reported in 2009 that Charles had written to Treasury, Foreign Office and Education Department ministers over the previous three years and that his aides had also written letters to government officials.

“The disclosures will fuel growing concern that the prince is continuing to interfere in political matters when many believe he should remain neutral if he wishes to become king,” the paper said.

The Upper Tribunal ruled in 2012 that many of the letters, “advocacy correspondence,” should be disclosed, but its decision was vetoed by Britain’s attorney general, who issued a certificate overriding it.

Explaining his decision, the attorney general said that in that his view, the correspondence was “undertaken as part of The Prince of Wales’ preparation for becoming King” and contained nothing that outweighed “strong public interest against disclosure.”

The Guardian challenged the veto in court, but three high court judges dismissed it, so Evans appealed to the Supreme Court, which on Thursday ruled that the attorney general was not entitled to issue the certificate.