By Roger Pearson
Lawyers for the Prince of Wales went into legal battle at London’s High Court today in a test case which focuses on whether royalty are entitled to the same level of privacy as ordinary citizens.
The case, expected to last three days, is over complaints by the Prince that the Mail on Sunday was in breach of his confidentiality and copyright in publishing extracts from his personal journals.
The Prince’s legal team are seeking “summary judgment” – judgment without the need for a fully-fought hearing. This would do away with any need for the Prince to be called as a witness.
They say there is no way Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Mail on Sunday, can succeed in their claim that they were entitled to publish the journal extracts on the basis that revelation of the Prince’s views was in the public interest.
Among other things he had referred in the published passages to Chinese diplomats as “appalling old waxworks.”
Hugh Tomlinson QC, for the Prince, told Mr Justice Blackburne: "This is not a case about press freedom."
The Prince is, among other things, seeking the return of seven diaries which were copied by a former employee, named at an earlier hearing as Sara Goodall.
Tomlinson said: "We are not dealing with state secrets. We are dealing with an ordinary type of personal journal of the type that any citizen might make in respect of a foreign trip, recording thoughts and impressions.
"We say it is absolutely vital to the position of the claimant – and anyone else in his position – that this sort of document cannot be published willy-nilly by the press and that is the reason we brought this action."
Tomlinson said that the Prince was entitled to privacy in the same way that ordinary citizens were.
“He says that like everyone else – from the humblest private citizen to the highest public figure – he is entitled to keep his personal documents private," said Tomlinson.
Initially it had been thought that the Prince’s lawyers would seek to have parts of the case heard in private, but Tomlinson said today that there would be no applications for this.
The extracts already published by the Mail on Sunday came from a 3,000 word journal headed The Handover of Hong Kong or The Great Chinese Takeaway.
Turning to the arguments by Associated Newspapers, Tomlinson said: “The defendant seeks to defend its plainly unlawful act by asserting that the freedom of the press requires them to publish.
However, he denied the case was about press freedom. He told the judge the right of free speech in the European Convention on Human Rights was governed by responsibilities which, he claimed, were "strikingly absent” from the argument of Associated Newspapers.
"These responsibilities include treating confidential documents as confidential."
He said the evidence and law showed that the defendant had no chance of success and the only result was judgment for the Prince.
The hearing continues.