LONDON — It’s not every day a member of the British royal family takes the government to court. But not every member is like Prince Harry.
The Duke of Sussex — a polarizing figure in the U.K. who fell out spectacularly with fellow royals and relocated to the United States with his wife, Meghan Markle, in 2020 — is continuing his beef with the U.K.’s interior ministry and the shadowy committee that decides on royal security.
POLITICO has your back with a bluffer’s guide to the action at the Royal Courts of Justice.
Why is Harry royally unhappy?
It’s all about who keeps King Charles’ youngest son safe — and who foots the bill.
Government department the Home Office stripped Harry of his ongoing taxpayer-funded security detail after he resigned from his royal duties and moved to the U.S. in January 2020.
The decision was made by a little-known, extravagantly titled, and powerful Home Office group called the Executive Committee for the Protection of Royalty and Public Figures (Ravec), which ruled that the prince and his family should no longer get the “same degree” of protection they were previously afforded when visiting the U.K.
But in July 2022, Harry was granted permission to challenge the Home Office, arguing the decision to remove police protection was made unfairly. The off-duty royal claimed “procedural unfairness” underpinned the move.
The latest three-day hearing — which kicked off Tuesday — will hear Harry’s lawyers argue that he did not feel safe when returning to the U.K. with his wife and their two young children. They will cite concerns about the family’s welfare after being chased by paparazzi following a London charity event.
In written evidence, the duke’s lawyer Shaheed Fatima K.C. argued that the prince “should be given state security in light of the threats/risks he faces,” and said Ravec “should have considered the ‘impact’ that a successful attack on the claimant would have, bearing in mind his status, background and profile within the royal family — which he was born into and which he will have for the rest of his life — and his ongoing charity work and service to the public.”
Any bonus royal drama?
Always. The prince alleged bias on the part of the royal-linked Ravec in earlier hearings.
After he won the right to partially challenge Ravec’s decision back in July 2022, his lawyers argued the duke should have been given the chance to make “informed representations” to the committee on their decision. But, more juicily for royal watchers, his team argued pre-existing feuding in Britain’s top family muddied the waters.
Harry, his team argued, should have received a “clear and full explanation” of Ravec’s membership after it was revealed that Edward Young, Queen Elizabeth II’s then-assistant private secretary, sat on the committee. Harry said the two had “significant tensions.”
Presiding over the case, Justice Swift rejected that argument. While he concluded it was “arguable” whether the duke “should have had the opportunity to make representations direct to Ravec,” he disagreed that Harry needed to know the committee’s actual membership and said there was “no evidence at all to support a claim that any committee member had approached decisions with a closed mind, or that either decision was affected by bias.”
What’s the government’s argument?
At the last hearing, lawyers for the Home Office said the committee was perfectly entitled to consider the duke’s security detail on a “case by case” basis rather than providing blanket protection. They argued that problems between the king’s son and royal household staff were irrelevant.
More broadly, the government has argued that Ravec chose to withdraw security because there is simply “no basis” for “publicly-funded security support” for the duke and duchess now that they’ve given up full-time duties.
James Eadie KC, representing the Home Office, said the British state has treated Harry’s position as “bespoke.” He argued it has weighed up “the capability and intent of hostile actors, the vulnerability of that individual to such an attack, and the impact that such an attack would have on the interests of the state.”
“As a result of the fact that he would no longer be a working member of the royal family, and would be living abroad for the majority of the time, his position had materially changed,” Eadie argued.
In a separate case offering a further twist, Harry was refused the right to pay for police protection out of his own pocket, with government lawyers arguing this could create a two-tier system benefiting the wealthy. Perish that thought in the famously egalitarian U.K.
What happens now?
The hearing runs from Tuesday to Thursday, but a judgment isn’t expected until a later date.
The majority of the hearing will take place behind closed doors, with a privacy order in place amid concern the material in the case is too sensitive for the public domain.
In other words, don’t expect a ton of breaking news every 3 seconds — just plenty of goss after the fact.
Any more drama looming for Harry?
You bet. This is just one of four cases the 39-year-old prince currently has working through the High Court.
He has a host of ongoing legal claims against media conglomerates whom he alleges gathered information about him unlawfully.
Beyond that, Harry is rarely out of the headlines. British tabloids have been dominated in recent days by an explosive row over a new book on the duke alleging that two senior royals discussed the skin color of Harry and Meghan’s first child, Archie, before he was born.
Britain’s royal obsession continues.