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Legalbrief   |   your legal news hub Thursday 24 October 2019

Queen's 'secret' letters case goes to Australian High Court

A battle to release sensitive royal correspondence about the dismissal of the Labour Prime Minister Gough Whitlam will make its way to Australia’s highest court. A report in The Guardian notes that last week the High Court agreed to hear a case launched by the academic and historian Jenny Hocking, aimed at forcing Australia’s national archives to release the letters, extending a legal fight that began in 2016. The so-called ‘palace letters’ are a series of exchanges between the Queen, her private secretary, and the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr in the lead-up to the 1975 dismissal of Whitlam. The documents are held by the National Archives of Australia (NAA), and have been embargoed from public release by the Queen, potentially indefinitely. The NAA has argued they are ‘personal’ communications between the Queen and the Governor-General, and are therefore exempt from the usual provisions that open up official records to public release after 30 years. Hocking has said it simply did not pass the pub test. ‘It is difficult to reconcile the label “personal” for any letters between the Governor-General and the Queen, two positions at the apex of our system of constitutional monarchy, let alone those written at a time of intense political upheaval and regarding the dismissal of a Prime Minister and his elected government,’ she wrote in November. The federal court has already found against Hocking. Last year, the Federal Court Justice John Griffiths ruled the letters should remain secret, despite recognising their clear public interest. An appeal to the Federal Court’s full Bench was subsequently rejected, and Hocking turned to the High Court, which last week gave her special leave to appeal.