Secret letters sent from Prince Charles to British government ministers were finally published on Wednesday after a 10-year legal battle to reveal their contents.
They are dubbed the “spider memos” because of Prince Charles’ distinctive spirally handwriting.
In 2005, Guardian journalist Rob Evans applied for a Freedom of Information Request to see letters from from the Prince of Wales sent to seven Whitehall departments between 2004 and 2005.
The government has fought against publication of the letters because they could expose Prince Charles’ personal views on a variety of topics. This is damaging because the Royal family is expected to remain politically neutral (which is why, for instance, the Queen abstains from voting in general elections even though she is entitled to do so).
However, after a decade-long battle between Whitehall and the Guardian, a collection of 27 letters will be released after the Supreme Court ruled in March they they must be made public.
The letters from the Prince of Wales have been dubbed the “spider memos” because of Charles’ handwriting, as seen on earlier letters to government ministers.
The letters that are being published in Wednesday’s dump were sent to Labour ministers at several government departments which included business, innovation and skills, children, schools and families, health and the environment, food and rural affairs and culture, media and sport.
In 2012, the letters were nearly published but the attorney general at the time, Dominic Grieve, vetoed the information tribunal’s decision to allow the public to read the letters because they “contain remarks about public affairs which would in my view, if revealed, have had a material effect upon the willingness of the government to engage in correspondence with the Prince of Wales, and would potentially have undermined his position of political neutrality.”
However, Freedom of Speech supporters, such as the Guardian, say it is in the public’s interest to know how Prince Charles used his position as a member of the Royal family to influence or intervene in legislation or policies that would affect the ordinary Briton.
On Tuesday, an upper tribunal in London upheld the Supreme Court’s March decision to allow the letters to be published under the classification of “open material” and this means the Guardian and other parties are able to publish the content of that material without restriction.
However, some redactions were made to the letters, where the court deemed parts of the content to not be in the public’s interest.
A spokesperson for Clarence House, which represents the Royal family, told the Guardian newspaper last month that it was “disappointed that the principle of privacy has not been upheld.”
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