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Prince Charles letter veto challenged in appeals court

Attorney General attacked after blocking publication of Prince's correspondence with government ministers

The Attorney General is under attack in the Court of Appeal for blocking a court ruling that allowed disclosure of letters the Prince of Wales wrote to government ministers.

Newspaper journalist Rob Evans is accusing the government’s principal legal adviser Dominic Grieve of acting unlawfully and failing to show “reasonable grounds” for overriding a decision of the Upper Tribunal.

The tribunal declared in September 2012 that Mr Evans and the public were entitled to see the letters under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), and under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

The government departments concerned with the correspondence did not appeal against the decision of the tribunal, which was headed by High Court judge Mr Justice Walker.

Instead — in what is thought to be a unique situation — the Attorney General issued a certificate under section 53 of the FOIA in October 2012 and rendered the tribunal decision ineffective.

Mr Grieve said, in his opinion, the departments were legally entitled to refuse disclosure because the correspondence was undertaken as part of the Prince’s “preparation for becoming king.”

Making the letters public could potentially damage the principle of the heir to the throne being politically neutral, and so undermine his ability to fulfil his duties when king, said Mr Grieve.

Yesterday Dinah Rose QC, appearing for Mr Evans, asked three appeal judges to quash the Attorney General’s decision trumping the tribunal ruling.

Ms Rose argued Mr Grieve had erred on a number of grounds involving both European and domestic law.

The latest round of legal action follows last July’s decision by three High Court judges — led by the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge — backing the Attorney General’s action.

They ruled the use of the veto was lawful, and that Mr Grieve had reasonable grounds for deciding it was “an exceptional case meriting use of the ministerial veto to prevent disclosure and to safeguard the public interest.”

The seven government departments Charles wrote to are Business, Innovation and Skills; Health; Children, Schools and Families; Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Culture, Media and Sport; the Northern Ireland Office and the Cabinet Office.

The appeal hearing, expected to last at least two days, is taking place before the Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson, Lord Justice Richards and Lord Justice Pitchford.

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