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Britain’s top court to rule on Prince Charles’s government letters

(Reuters) – Britain’s top court will rule next week whether “frank” letters sent by Prince Charles to government ministers should be made public, potentially embarrassing the heir-to-the-throne and raising the contentious issue of royal interference in politics.

For years, the Guardian newspaper has sought access to 27 letters written by Charles to members of ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Labour government between 2004 and 2005 under the country’s freedom of information laws.

The Court of Appeal decided last year that a gagging order imposed by the country’s former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, who had called the letters “particularly frank”, was unlawful.

Grieve had said any perception that Charles had disagreed with ministers “would be seriously damaging to his role as future monarch because, if he forfeits his position of political neutrality as heir to the throne, he cannot easily recover it when he is king”.

The government’s chief legal adviser was allowed to appeal to the country’s Supreme Court over the decision to overturn his block on publication, with Prime Minister David Cameron lending his weight to the decision to challenge the verdict.

Seven of the country’s most senior judges will deliver their verdict next Thursday, the Supreme Court said in a statement on Friday.

Under Britain’s unwritten constitution, it is understood that the monarch should remain politically neutral. Queen Elizabeth has steadfastly kept her political opinions to herself during her 63-year reign.

However, her 66-year-old son has long held strong views in areas like the environment and urban planning and has been criticised for apparently using his position to persuade ministers to change policy through private letters, nicknamed “black-spider memos” because of his scrawled handwriting.

“The trouble is, there isn’t a job description so you have to rather make it up as you go along, which doesn’t always appeal to everybody else,” Charles told an interviewer in November 2010, when asked about his position as heir.

In February, a new biography of Britain’s longest-serving heir apparent said Charles was planning a new model of monarchy when he becomes king, a prospect the book suggested which alarmed the queen who will become the country’s longest-reigning sovereign ever in September.

The headlines generated by the biography led to a highly-unusual public rebuff from aides.

“After half a century in public life, few could be better placed than His Royal Highness to understand the necessary and proper limitations on the role of a constitutional monarch,” William Nye, Charles’s Principal Private Secretary wrote in a letter to the Times newspaper.

“Should he be called to the throne, the Prince of Wales will be inspired by the examples of his mother and grandfather, while drawing also on his own experience of a lifetime of service.”

Charles, who has taken on more royal duties as his 88-year-old mother begins to scale down her official engagements, and his second wife Camilla are currently on a goodwill tour in the United States, meeting President Barack Obama on Thursday.

 

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