Free speech must overrule royals' desire to gag press

Whatever happened to the old editors’ adage that the royals never resort to the law? These days, the paths between various royal palaces and the High Court seem to be busier than Oxford Street on the Saturday before Christmas.

In recent years, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of York, the Countess of Wessex and even the Queen have all sought refuge behind various of m’learned friends’ devices to prevent publication of embarrassing stories or to seek redress afterwards.

Prince Charles, famously, wanted Daily Mirror editor Richard Stott jailed after he printed extracts from a banned book by housekeeper Wendy Berry.

This week, the stately procession turned to a stampede with two injunctions – obtained by a former royal aide, but apparently with a clear royal seal of approval – granted within three days.

First up, before Mr Justice McKinnon on Saturday, was The Mail on Sunday. It had conducted a lengthy interview with another former royal servant, who had sworn an affidavit to support the claims he was making to the paper.

But the servant’s former colleague acted to prevent the story and an injunction was granted, apparently on the grounds that the account may be libellous.

Then, on Monday, The Guardian was preparing to publish the name of the man who had obtained the injunction – having ascertained that his action against the MoS did not prevent it from doing so.

But no – it was back to court again, this time to prevent the identity of the gagger from emerging.

Once again, the injunction was granted.

And behind all of the legal toings and froings lurks the spectre of the “senior member of the Royal Family” who wrote to the MoS on Saturday demanding that the story be withheld.

The flurry of activity is worrying on a number of counts. Does not an injunction on the grounds that a piece may be libellous – when the newspaper is clearly prepared to defend its truth – amount to censorship? Surely the libel courts should decide. Are the facts of a story concerning the details of our own monarchy’s households not in the public interest? As Sunday Mail editor Allan Rennie, when his paper was subject to a Prince Charles injunction, put it last year: Do we want a democracy with free speech where the public interest comes first? Or an outdated monarchy where privilege and self-interest rule? Incorporating Magazine

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