The 700-year-old “veil of secrecy” covering the workings of the Prince of Wales’s Duchy of Cornwall estate will be partially lifted after a landmark legal ruling that could open up the Royal family to far greater public scrutiny.
The Prince of Wales, currently on a tour of South Africa with the Duchess of Cornwall, could be forced to comply with freedom of information requests in future after a landmark ruling
– Landmark ruling lifts ‘veil of secrecy’ from Prince of Wales’s Duchy of Cornwall estate (Telegraph, Nov. 3, 2011):
A tribunal ruled that the Duchy, which provided the Prince with an income of £17.8 million last year, was no longer exempt from freedom of information laws.
Since 1337 the Duchy, which owns 132,000 acres of land in 23 counties, has been the private domain of the heir to the throne.
But after a three-year legal battle by a local environmental campaigner, a judge decided that the Duchy is, in fact “a public authority”.
The decision means the Duchy, and by implication other royal assets such as the Duchy of Lancaster, owned by the Queen, must abide by some of the same rules of disclosure as local councils.
The case is also potentially embarrassing for the Prince, who prides himself on his environmental campaigns, as it revolved around the Duchy’s refusal to discuss the possible environmental impact of an oyster farm in its waters.
Michael Bruton, the environmentalist who has now forced the Duchy to answer his questions about the oyster farm, said: “It was clear that the Duchy did not want people to peer into its affairs and it has spent the last three years stalling.
“I respect the Prince of Wales for his environmental campaigning, but the Duchy should be practising what he preaches. Instead it was determined to keep the veil of secrecy over what it does and why it does it.”
Kate Harrison, the solicitor who represented Mr Bruton during his legal battle, said the Duchy’s decision to fight against disclosure had backfired, because the decision by the Information Rights Tribunal would now make it easier for others to seek information under Freedom of Information laws.
She said: “This certainly shines a light on the Duchy and in future it could face interesting questions about other areas of its work, such as the application of human rights laws.”
The row began in 2008 when Mr Bruton, the chairman of the Cornish branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, became concerned about the introduction of non-native Pacific oysters to an oyster farm on waters leased from the Duchy at Port Navas in Cornwall.
Mr Bruton submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the Duchy to ask if it had carried out an environmental impact assessment on the effect the non-native oysters might have on other native species and about dredging at the site.
The Duchy refused his request, citing its exemption from Freedom of Information legislation. During the lengthy legal challenge the Duchy’s lawyers argued that it was “an entirely private operation”.
Yesterday the Information Rights Tribunal found in favour of Mr Bruton, deciding that the Duchy, which has several statutory powers, such as its role as the harbour authority in the Isles of Scilly, clearly fell under the definition of a public authority.
And because public authorities must adhere to both the Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, the Duchy was duty-bound to release the information.
Principal Judge John Angel, said that, in the modern world, the Duchy “carries out functions of public administration”, as well as fulfilling the important constitutional role of providing an income to the heir to the throne.
The Duchy is subject to the supervision of Parliament and Judge Angel added: “In a modern day context, the Duchy is carrying out the public function or service of providing an income for the undertaking of an extremely important constitutional role in the UK.”
He concluded: “The Duchy is also a public authority in performing its primary function and the provision of an income for the Duke is a function of public administration”.
The Prince of Wales, who is currently carrying out official engagements in South Africa, is understood to have been informed of the decision, which the Duchy is considering appealing.
A spokesman for Clarence House said: “The Duchy is reviewing the tribunal’s reasons for the decision, with a view to establishing whether it would be appropriate to appeal the decision.”
The British Royals since 1714 are coming from the House of Hannover and the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. The Royals are ‘really’ Germans.
The royal family’s official name, or lack thereof, became a problem during World War I, when people began to mutter that Saxe-Coburg-Gotha sounded far too German. King George V and his family needed a new English-sounding name. After considering everything from Plantagenet to Tudor-Stuart to simply England, the king and his advisors chose the name Windsor.