Hearing on Duke’s will held in private to prevent ‘intrusive’ publicity around arrangements
A ruling published on Thursday said that the Duke of Edinburgh’s will would remain sealed for 90 years from the grant of probate – the process confirming the authority of an executor to administer a deceased person’s estate – and may only be opened in private after that date.
“I have held that, because of the constitutional position of the Sovereign, it is appropriate to have a special practice in relation to royal wills,” Judge Sir Andrew McFarlane said.
“There is a need to enhance the protection afforded to truly private aspects of the lives of this limited group of individuals in order to maintain the dignity of the Sovereign and close members of her family.”
When a senior member of the royal family dies, it is convention that an application to seal their will is made to the President of the Family Division of the High Court to prevent it from being open to public inspection in the way other wills would usually be.
Sir Andrew, who is the current president, heard legal arguments from lawyers representing Philip’s estate and the Attorney General – who represents the public interest in such matters – at a private hearing in July.
The judge added on Thursday that he had neither seen, nor been told anything of the contents of the will, other than the date of its execution and the identity of the appointed executor.
Philip, who died aged 99 in April, two months before he would have turned 100, was the UK’s longest-serving consort.
The decision to hold the earlier hearing in private was designed to prevent a series of announcements about the case that would “generate very significant publicity and conjecture”, Sir Andrew said.
He added: “I accepted the submission that, whilst there may be public curiosity as to the private arrangements that a member of the royal family may choose to make in their will, there is no true public interest in the public knowing this wholly private information.
“The media interest in this respect is commercial. The degree of publicity that publication would be likely to attract would be very extensive and wholly contrary to the aim of maintaining the dignity of the Sovereign.”
Lawyers representing Philip’s estate had argued that news of the hearing and application could generate “wholly unfounded conjecture” which would be “deeply intrusive” to the Queen and royal family.
As President of the Family Division of the High Court, Sir Andrew is the guardian of a safe which holds 30 envelopes – each containing the sealed will of a deceased member of the royal family.
The earliest envelope is labelled as containing the will of Prince Francis of Teck, with the most recent additions being the wills of the late Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister.
Additional reporting by PA