In 2012 one would not expect the royal family still to have legal cover for its involvement in practical political matters. However, the coalition government has decided to overrule an independent tribunal, so that the scale of the meddling by Prince Charles in public life cannot be disclosed.
The Prince of Wales is as entitled to seek to influence policy and official decision-making as any other citizen. But what he is surely not entitled to do is hide all his lobbying behind the cloak of legal privilege. And yet, that is what has happened. The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, has vetoed disclosure of the prince’s letters to ministers and departments.
There is no good reason whatsoever for this veto, legal or otherwise. In September, a specialist information law tribunal ordered the disclosure of these letters under the Freedom of Information Act, in a 126-page, carefully worded decision. The tribunal rightly held that there is a public interest in disclosure of this ongoing attempt by Prince Charles to influence the work of government. Indeed, nothing could be a more obvious proposition. The request for disclosure was by the Guardian journalist Rob Evans. It is now hoped that the Guardian will challenge Grieve’s decision in the high court.
We supposedly live in a constitutional monarchy, which means that any political powers of the royal family are subject to constitutional restraint. But one does not have to be a republican to be aghast at the government’s attempt to give the prince a blanket waiver from the Freedom of Information Act.
David Allen Green is the New Statesman’s legal correspondent