Guardian to appeal secrecy of ban on Prince Philip’s Will being made public

A court of appeal judge has permitted media organisations to challenge the decision to ban those organisations from a court case in 2021 regarding the Duke of Edinburgh.

At the private hearing that took place in September, the president of the family division of the high court ruled that Prince Philip’s Will should be hidden from the public for 90 years at a private hearing that media organisations were not told about. Prince Philip died in 2021 at the age of 99. He had been married to the Queen for 74 years.

The Guardian newspaper is bringing the challenge against the attorney general and the Queen’s private lawyers. The paper argues that the case should be reheard in a high court because Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the family division, failed to consider properly whether reporters should attend or make representations about attending.

Interference with the principle of open justice

The Guardian argues this is a serious interference with the principle of open justice.

Since 1910, the royal family has hidden the Wills of 30 members. Wills are normally made public to make sure they are correctly implemented, prevent fraud and alert all those who may benefit. The identity of the 30 members was made public last year, although the contents of their Wills remain hidden.

Included on the list was Prince George Valdemar Carl Axel, who died in 1986, and a member of the Danish royal family, who was only distantly connected through being a second cousin to Prince Philip. He was born and died in Denmark, but the application to seal his Will was made in London.

Money accumulated from public funds

Norman Baker, a former Liberal Democrat minister who wrote a book about the royals suggested some of the Wills have been hidden to hide “how much money they have accumulated from public funds”.

Lady Justice King, a court of appeal judge, gave permission for the Guardian’s appeal, stating that: “There is a real prospect of the applicant [the Guardian] succeeding on the ground that the high court erred in law in denying the media an opportunity to make submissions, or at least to attend and hear submissions, as to whether the substantive application to seal the Will of His Late Royal Highness, the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh should be heard in private.”

The paper’s legal challenge will focus on the secrecy that surrounds the obscure exemption that has been granted to the royal family. The applications for all 30 of the Wills to be hidden were granted in private hearings.

‘Unique group of individuals’

Sir Andrew McFarlane had ruled that Prince Philip’s Will should be kept private because it would “enhance the protection afforded to the private lives of this unique group of individuals, in order to protect the dignity and standing of the public role of the sovereign and other close members of her family”.

He also added that there was “no true public interest” in the public knowing this “wholly private information”.

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