Guardian loses legal challenge on hearing of Duke of Edinburgh’s will

The Guardian has lost its appeal over the confidential nature of a trial under the will of the Duke of Edinburgh.

His newspaper filed a challenge in the Court of Appeal against the judge’s decision to exclude the press from the July 2021 hearing.

Guardian lawyers argued at a hearing last week that a completely private hearing on whether wills should be kept secret was “the most serious interference to open justice” “.


Philip died in April 2021, two months before his 100th birthday (Adrian Dennis/PA)

Philip, the country’s longest serving man, passed away at the age of 99 on 9 April last year, two months before he turned 100.

After the death of a senior member of the royal family, it has been customary for more than a century that an application to have their will sealed is addressed to the president of the Family Division of the Supreme Court.

This means that the wills of senior members of the royal family are not made public in the usual way.

At last year’s hearing, the chairman of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, heard legal arguments from lawyers representing Philip’s estate and the Attorney General, who represents the public interest in these matters. such problem.

A completely private hearing like this is the most serious interference with public justiceLawyer for The Guardian

The Guardian objected to the decision to hold a hearing on the application to seal the will in private, calling it “disproportionate and unreasonable”. There is no appeal against the decision to seal the will.

Rejecting the newspaper’s appeal, the senior judges ruled that it was not a case of “fairness requiring the media to notify the hearing or request a pre-judgment submission”.

Sir Geoffrey Vos and Dame Victoria Sharp, seated with Lady Justice King, said they could not see how the media could have been informed of the fact that the hearing was taking place “without risking with the dreaded media storm.”

They added: “The hearing comes at an extremely sensitive time for the Sovereign and her family, and those interests would not be protected if lengthy hearings were covered by the media instead. for a single occasion that suffices for what happened. decision has been published. “

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Coffins carry the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh during his funeral at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The judges also said the circumstances of the case were “exceptional”.

Sir Geoffrey and Dame Victoria added: “It is true that the law applies equally to the Royal Family, but that does not mean that the law produces the same results in all situations.

“These cases, as we said, are exceptional.

“We are not sure there is a particular public interest in knowing how the royal wealth is distributed.

“The perceived lack of transparency may be a matter of legitimate public debate, but (The Will Rules are not substantive) allows wills and their value to remain hidden from view. the public in some cases.

“The judge properly applied the statutory check in this case.”

Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, of ​​Guardian News and Media, argued at the hearing last week: “A completely private hearing like this is the most serious interference with public justice. It is a special step that requires special justification.

“In this case, (Sir Andrew) has decided to take such an extraordinary step without even inviting or allowing members of the media to submit as to whether such a proceeding is fair. or reasonable.”


Wills of senior members of the royal family are not made public to public scrutiny (Chris Jackson/PA)

The attorney general’s attorneys argued: “The attorney is well positioned to assist the court because she is able to represent the general public interest without being swayed by any undue interest. public.”

They argued that the context of the situation was “exceptional because of the nature of the application” and that, in the words of Sir Andrew, the practice of sealing royal wills had become a “convention that has existed for more than a century”.

In their written submissions, the lawyers said Sir Andrew “was not guilty of legal error” and “applys a principled approach to matters”.

They said The Guardian must prove that the judge’s conclusion was “wrong” and that doing so would be a “difficult roadblock”.


Sir Andrew McFarlane (Courts and Courts of Justice / PA)

In a ruling in October, Sir Andrew ordered that Philip’s will be kept private for 90 years and could only be opened in private even after that.

He said the ruling had been released to make as many details as possible public without “infringing upon the usual privacy rights reserved for government communications”.

The judge said it was in the public interest that he had to make it clear that he had neither seen nor been told anything about the contents of Philip’s will, other than the date of execution and the identity of the person. specified execution.

Sir Andrew said any future ruling on applications for royal wills would remain closed, and therefore would not be made public. Guardian loses legal challenge on hearing of Duke of Edinburgh’s will

Fry Electronics Team

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