Duchy row settles constitutional conundrum

Posted: 12th April 2016

Prince CharlesIn a case which raised novel legal issues and addressed a constitutional conundrum, a tribunal has ruled in the context of a request for environmental information that the Duchy of Cornwall is not a public authority and has no legal personality separate from that of the Prince of Wales, as heir to the throne.

The Prince also bears the title of Duke of Cornwall and a member of the public had sought information relating to his role as harbour and lighthouse authority for the port of St Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly. The First-tier Tribunal (FTT) directed the Duchy to comply with the request on the basis that it was a public authority for the purposes of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

In allowing the Prince’s appeal against that decision, the Upper Tribunal noted that, under the terms of a royal charter, dated 1337, the possessions of the Dukedom of Cornwall are automatically conferred on the heir to the throne. However, the charter did not treat the Duchy as an entity, body or person in its own right but merely as a descriptive term for the Duke himself or the estate that he owns.

Over the centuries, various officers, a council and others had been involved in the management of the assets, interests and rights of the Duchy. However, they were not civil servants and were not employed by an administrative authority. In reality, the Duchy of Cornwall was no more than a name which had been used as a matter of convenience and it had no functions, powers or identity of its own. In those circumstances, the regulations had no application to the Duchy and the Duke was under no obligation to provide the information sought.