Prince Charles’ letters - landmark judgment

Posted: 26th March 2015

SCIn a landmark decision, which reaffirmed the democratic division between the roles of the judiciary and the executive, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Attorney General (AG) breached fundamental constitutional principles when he refused to disclose to the press letters written to government departments by Prince Charles.

A journalist had campaigned for the right to see the letters and the Upper Tribunal (UT) had ultimately decided that ‘advocacy correspondence’ between the heir to the throne and various government departments should be disclosed to him. The AG’s response to that decision was to issue a certificate under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 refusing such disclosure. He said that there were ‘reasonable grounds’ for maintaining the privacy of the correspondence.

The journalist’s challenge to the certificate was upheld by the Court of Appeal and, in dismissing the AG’s appeal against that decision, the Supreme Court has ruled by a majority that the certificate was invalid. The Court noted that, by issuing the certificate, the AG had purported to override the decision of the UT merely on the basis that he disagreed with it.

The Court found that, to allow such a procedure, would be unique in the laws of the UK and would cut across two constitutional principles that were fundamental to the rule of law: decisions made by the courts are final and cannot be set aside and the decisions and actions of the executive are reviewable by the judiciary, not vice versa.