In the UK recently, senior members of the judiciary ruled that it was ‘not in the public interest’ for the public to know how Charles Mountbatten-Windsor (Prince Charles) influences government policy. The Guardian, which made a request under the Freedom of Information Act to see correspondence between Charles and government departments was refused, despite being granted in September last year. Judges in a previous tribunal ordered the government departments to publish the letters.
However, the attorney general Dominic Grieve, blocked the decision, explaining that the letters “contain remarks about public affairs which would … have had a material effect upon the willingness of the government to engage in correspondence … and would potentially have undermined his position of political neutrality.” At the same time, Lord Rogers made a public statement denouncing both the decision by Grieve to block the publication of letters, and the situation itself:
“It is either a democracy or it is not. I don’t think anybody, be it a King, Prince, or poor man, has a right to undermine decisions which have a public impact. The only way for Charles to be a public figure is for him to act publicly. It is not democratic to cover up his interventions.”
The recent High Court defence of Grieve’s veto creates a worrying precedent, that ministers can silence information that may not be favourable to them or their interests, particularly because even the High Court is not immune to an overruling. The Lord Chief Justice, whilst believing that Grieve did act in the public interest, still called the process by which he blocked the Freedom of Information request a “constitutional aberration”.