Court: Newspaper Violated Prince Charles’ Confidentiality and Copyright

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A British newspaper breached the confidentiality and copyright of Prince Charles when it published an excerpt from his journals, an appeals court said Thursday in upholding a lower court decision.

The heir to the throne had sued the publisher after the newspaper, the Mail on Sunday, published excerpts last year from a diary Charles kept during a 1997 visit to Hong Kong. In the diary, he referred to Chinese officials as “appalling old waxworks.”

The newspaper had argued there was a public interest in knowing the prince’s attitude toward relations between Britain and China, as well as more about Charles’ conduct in his role as heir to the throne.

The paper contended that since the event described in the journal – the handover of Hong Kong – was a public moment, the diary was neither confidential nor private.

But the appeal court’s judgment, handed down by Judge Nicholas Phillips, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, rejected that premise.

“While most of the events described in the journal were in the public domain, what (was) not in the public domain were Prince Charles’ comments about them,” the judgment said. “It was these that were the essence of the publication in the Mail on Sunday.”

The appeals court said the newspaper’s own headline – which used the word “reveals” – drew attention to the fact that they were publishing new information.

In a statement, Sir Michael Peat, Charles’ principal private secretary, said the prince was pleased with the result. Charles was not present for the ruling.

“This confirms what we have always maintained – that The Prince of Wales, like anyone else, is entitled to keep his private journals private,” the statement said.

The Mail had also argued that because Charles had his journals copied and circulated to a group estimated at about 50 people, he shouldn’t expect that they would be kept private. That was also rejected.

“The significant fact is that over a period of some 30 years there is no evidence that any recipient of the journals breached the confidence under which they had received them,” the ruling said.

In all, eight diaries were given to the newspaper by a former employee of the prince, who breached a confidentiality agreement by copying the journals.

The Mail has only published excerpts from one diary, which was entitled “The Handover Of Hong Kong, or The Great Chinese Takeaway.”

In March, Judge William Blackburne supported Charles in his bid to prevent publication of further details but said a decision over publication of seven other journals would have to go to a full trial.

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