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Britain exempts royals from FOI law

Associated Press / January 20, 2011

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LONDON — What happens in the palace stays in the palace.

A law that took effect yesterday makes Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, and Prince William exempt from freedom of information laws, meaning many details of their activities won’t be public for decades.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke said the exemption will protect the monarch’s private conversations with politicians and officials — but others say it will make it even harder to hold the royal family accountable.

For centuries, the workings of the monarchy were shrouded in secrecy, a blend of law, convention, deference, and media self-censorship. That media acquiescence is long gone, and under laws that took effect in 2005, information about the royal family could be released if it was in the public interest.

“It at least raised the possibility that information could be disclosed,’’ said Maurice Frankel of the Campaign for Freedom of Information. “What the [most recent] changes do is remove the public interest test — exemption becomes absolute.’’

Clarke, the justice secretary, said the new rule is needed “to protect the longstanding conventions surrounding the monarchy and its records.’’

But critics say Prince Charles has cast neutrality aside by peppering ministers with letters on behalf of environmental issues and his pet projects.

“What he’s doing in some of these cases is obviously lobbying,’’ said Frankel.

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