View all newsletters
Sign up for our free email newsletters

Fighting for quality news media in the digital age.

  1. Media Law
May 13, 2015

Prince Charles ‘black spider’ memos published today following Guardian’s FoI battle

By PA Mediapoint

Secret letters sent by the Prince of Wales (pictured, Reuters) to government ministers will be published today following a ruling by the UK's highest court.

Charles' correspondence with ministers – known as "black spider" memos – will be released following a long-running battle by Guardian newspaper journalist Rob Evans to see the documents following a Freedom of Information request.

The Prince today declined to reply to questions about the imminent release of his letters written to government ministers as he embarked on a series of events highlighting the work of his Prince's Trust.

As he arrived at Marks and Spencer's flagship store near Marble Arch on Oxford Street in London, a broadcast journalist asked if he was "worried" about the letters and if he was still writing to ministers.

The heir to the throne, who was at the store to highlight the Make Your Mark four-week work placement scheme between M&S and his Prince's Trust, did not reply to the questions but said "very predictable" as he entered the store.

The letters will be published with some redactions following the Upper Tribunal's ruling yesterday that it "has accepted Mr Evans's submission that what is described in the decision as 'the open material' is to be supplied to other parties without restriction on their ability to publish that material".

The decision of the tribunal included a proviso that the material could be published subject to any "provisional redactions" to protect personal data of people other than Charles.

Content from our partners
Publishing on the open web is broken, how generative AI could help fix it
Impress: Regulation, arbitration and complaints resolution
Papermule: Workflow automation for publishers

Supreme Court judges approved the publication of the letters in March.

The Prince's notes were sent to a number of Government departments and written between September 2004 and March 2005.

They reflect, according to previous attorney general Dominic Grieve, Charles' "most deeply held personal views and beliefs''.

They are known as "black spider" memos because of his distinctive handwriting and abundant use of underlining and exclamation marks.

Grieve vetoed an original decision to order publication made by the Upper Tribunal in 2012, but it was eventually ruled that his actions were invalid, paving the way for the documents finally to be disclosed.

The documents are expected to be published by The Guardian, the Information Commissioner and the Cabinet Office at 3pm.

Here is a timeline of some of the key dates in the legal battle waged over the content of letters sent by the Prince of Wales to a number of government departments:

December 2009

It is reported that the Prince wrote to ministers in a number of Whitehall departments over the previous three years.

Charles faces accusations of interfering in government policy after making the direct contact.

Since 2006 the Prince has written to politicians leading eight government departments while his advisers have written to five, according to the Guardian.

The evidence of lobbying is obtained using the Freedom of Information Act, although Whitehall departments refuse to release the content of the letters.

September 2012

The Government is ordered to disclose the letters after a journalist wins an FoI appeal.

Seven Whitehall departments are told to hand over letters sent during a seven-month period in 2004 and 2005.

Three judges in an FoI tribunal rule in favour of Evans who had challenged a decision by the Information Commissioner to uphold a refusal by the government departments to release the correspondence.

October 2012

The Attorney General vetoes the disclosure of letters written by the Prince to ministers.

Dominic Grieve says the correspondence between Charles and seven government departments was part of his ''preparation for kingship''.

He issues a certificate under the Freedom of Information Act vetoing the disclosure of the correspondence.

July 2013

The Attorney General's decision to block public disclosure of Charles's letters is upheld by High Court judges.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, sitting with two other judges, refuses to overturn Grieve's veto.

They rule that the use of the veto was lawful, and that 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''.

March 2014

The Court of Appeal rules that the Attorney General's use of a ministerial veto was unlawful.

Lord Dyson, the Master of the Rolls, and two other judges rule that the certificate issued by Grieve should be quashed because he had ''no good reason'' for overriding the decision of the FoI tribunal and he had acted in a way which was incompatible with European law.

March 2015

The UK's highest court refuses to overturn a ruling which paves the way for the publication of Charles's letters.

Supreme Court justices in London reject a challenge by the Attorney General against a decision by Court of Appeal judges that he has unlawfully prevented the public seeing the letters.

Prime Minister David Cameron says: ''This is a disappointing judgment and we will now consider how to release these letters.

''This is about the principle that senior members of the Royal Family are able to express their views to government confidentially. I think most people would agree this is fair enough."

13 May 2015

The secret letters sent by the Prince are published.

The letters are disclosed with some redactions following an FoI tribunal's ruling that the material could be released subject to any "provisional redactions" to protect personal data of people other than Charles.

The documents are published by The Guardian, the Information Commissioner and the Cabinet Office.

Email to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
Thank you

Thanks for subscribing.

Websites in our network