Jonathan Orde examines the constitutional implications of the Prince Charles letters farrago.
One of the most powerful check and balance on executive power in our parliamentary democracy is public opinion. You only have to look to the Leveson Inquiry to see the principle in action: behaviour which politicians deemed to be perfectly acceptable in private was deemed the opposite in public.
The forces of transparency and disclosure strengthen our democracy through holding politicians to account.
The Attorney General has decided Prince Charles is not subject to the check and balance of public opinion. Normally, this isn’t an issue. The Royal Family are not political. Their function is to unite the nation, and in order to do this, they must keep their own personal views private. That is, not private from the public, but private from government and ministers too.
This is largely because our constitution affords the Monarch huge legal power, including appointing and dismissing prime ministers and ministers, and vetoing legislation. Of course, little of this power has any practical weight, but perception is important.
If the Monarch were to become political, for example, by trying to influence government policy, this would be completely antithetic to our parliamentary democracy, where parliament makes the law, not those with hereditary power.
Charles is not yet King. However, he has now cast doubt on his ability to fulfill that role with the level of effectiveness the Queen has. He has made a conscious choice to influence government. As he has made this choice, immunity from disclosure and transparency should be lifted. It is a fundamental principle of our democracy that those who seek influence over us, are accountable to us – and the fact this may be uncomfortable for those involved, is irrelevant.
The Judiciary agree, saying:
“Those who seek to influence government policy must understand that the public hs a legitimate interest in knowing what they have been doing and what the government has been doing in response.”
Unless Charles wants to stand for election, he should keep his ‘particularly frank views’ private. That will enable him, and the rest of the monarchy, to fulfill their constitutional role much more effectively.
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