The Duke of Edinburgh’s will is to remain secret to protect the “dignity” of the Queen because of her constitutional role, the UK High Court has ruled.

Prince Philip – the country’s longest-serving consort – died aged 99 on April 9, just two months before he would have turned 100.

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After the death of a senior member of the royal family, it has been convention for over a century that an application to seal their will is made to the President of the Family Division of the High Court.

This means the wills of senior members of the royal family are not open to public inspection in the way a will would ordinarily be.

Prince Philip
The details of Prince Philip’s will cannot be publicly released, a UK court has ruled. Credit: AP

The current president, Sir Andrew McFarlane, heard legal argument from lawyers representing Philip’s estate and the Attorney General – who represents the public interest in such matters – at a private hearing in July.

In a ruling published on Thursday, Sir Andrew ordered that Philip’s will is to remain sealed for 90 years from the grant of probate – the formal process which confirms the authority of an executor to administer a deceased person’s estate – and may only be opened in private even after that date.

The judge said: “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.

“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.”

Royal family ruling

He said the ruling was to make as much detail as possible public without “compromising the conventional privacy afforded to communications from the Sovereign”.

The judge said it was in the public interest for him to make clear he had neither seen, nor been told anything of the contents of, Philip’s will, other than the date of its execution and the identity of the appointed executor.

Sir Andrew said he had decided to hold the earlier hearing in private because a series of announcements, hearings and then a judgment would have been likely to “generate very significant publicity and conjecture”.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s will is to remain secret to protect the ‘dignity’ of the Queen.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s will is to remain secret to protect the ‘dignity’ of the Queen. Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

He concluded this would be “entirely contrary to the need to preserve the dignity of the Sovereign and protect the privacy surrounding genuinely private matters”.

He added: “The publicity would, therefore, in part, defeat the core purpose of the application.”

The judge said: “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.”

Sir Andrew said that, as the Attorney General was there to represent the public interest at the hearing, there was no legal reason for any further representations by media organisations.

Lawyers representing Philip’s estate had argued at the private hearing that news of that hearing and the application “might generate wholly unfounded conjecture” which would be “deeply intrusive” to the Queen and royal family.

‘Deeply intrusive’: Major ruling over contents of Prince Philip’s will
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