Secret hearing to keep Prince Philip's will under wraps was justified, court rules

The original decision on the will was made under 'exceptional' circumstances to protect the privacy of his widow

Queen Elizabeth ll and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at Royal Ascot in 2007. Getty Images
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British newspaper The Guardian has lost its legal challenge against a decision banning the media from a court case about Prince Philip's will.

A hearing was held in private in September 2021 where a High Court judge ruled that the prince’s will should remain sealed for 90 years.

On Friday, appeal court judges ruled that the original decision had been correct and threw out the newspaper’s argument.

The original decision on the will was made under “exceptional” circumstances to protect the privacy of his widow, Queen Elizabeth II, and other royals.

Senior judges Geoffrey Vos and Victoria Sharp ruled that notifying the media about the hearing would have risked a publicity storm.

“The hearing was at a hugely sensitive time for the sovereign and her family, and those interests would not have been protected had protracted hearings been reported in the press,” the judges found.

They said they could not see how the media could have been alerted to the fact the hearing was taking place “without risking the media storm that was feared”.

“The hearing was at a hugely sensitive time for the sovereign and her family, and those interests would not have been protected if there had been protracted hearings reported in the press rather than a single occasion on which full reasons for what had been decided were published,” they said

Sir Geoffrey and Dame Victoria said: “It is true that the law applies equally to the royal family, but that does not mean that the law produces the same outcomes in all situations.

“These circumstances are, as we have said, exceptional. We are not sure that there is a specific public interest in knowing how the assets of the royal family are distributed.

“A perceived lack of transparency might be a matter of legitimate public debate, but the (non-contentious probate rules) allow wills and their values to be concealed from the public gaze in some cases.

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

The Guardian had challenged the decision to hold a hearing on an application to seal the will in private, saying that it was “disproportionate and unjustified”.

Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, for Guardian News and Media, argued at last week's hearing: “An entirely private hearing such as this is the most serious interference with open justice. It is an exceptional step that requires exceptional justification.”

Updated: July 29, 2022, 1:37 PM
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