Mr Justice Swift ruled on Thursday that documents in the Duke of Sussex’s legal claim against government could be kept secret.
But as soon as he had delivered the decision, the judge launched into a rebuke of the Prince’s legal team for breaking the embargo on his ruling.
The court heard the judgment, shared under embargo with lawyers before it is formally handed down, had been sent on to former British Army Major General Tim Robinson.
Mr Robinson is a partner at Schillings, the law firm representing Prince Harry, and specialises in “putting out reputational fires” and protecting clients’ privacy. But crucially he is not a qualified lawyer.
“It seems to me there was a breach of the embargo, the draft judgment should not have been provided to Mr Robinson”, said the judge.
Branding the situation “entirely unacceptable”, he told the Prince’s barrister Shaheed Fatima QC: “It is also unacceptable you have come here without an apology.”
The barrister said she and her team had been unsure whether sending the embargoed to Mr Robinson in advance of it being handed down in open court was a breach, but they had decided yesterday to report the incident to the judge.
“We didn’t think there had been a breach”, she told the court, to which the judge shot back: “Let me disabuse you of that notion – there has been a breach.”
The court heard Mr Robinson, who has provided a witness statement in the legal battle, is not a solicitor and “not qualified as a matter of law to provide legal services”.
“I take full responsibility for what has happened”, said Ms Fatima.
“But no apology?”, Shot back the judge.
“With the benefit of hindsight, I should have thought more fully – before the emails were sent – about Mr Robinson’s status, and with the benefit of hindsight I should have out of an abundance of caution contacted the court”, said Ms Fatima.
The judge replied: “It’s not for me to require you to apologise. It should be a matter for you as a matter of professional conscience. If you chose not to, there is nothing I propose to do about it. “
Ms Fatima then told the judge: “I am very sorry for the fact I didn’t think fully before the emails were sent and I didn’t contact the court sooner.”
The judge then shut down the conversation, saying the exchange was “not doing you any good” and her words were “not particularly well-chosen”.
The ruling on Thursday means that parts of the Duke of Sussex’s legal challenge against a decision to change his level of police protection when in the UK will be kept confidential.
The Prince is bringing a claim against the Home Office after being told he would no longer be given the “same degree” of personal protective security when visiting from the US, despite offering to pay for it himself.
The Duke wants to bring his children to the UK, but “does not feel safe” when visiting under current security arrangements, the High Court was previously told.
He is challenging the February 2020 decision of the Executive Committee for the Protection of Royalty and Public Figures (Ravec), which has delegated powers from the Home Secretary.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Swift said that editing out information from court documents would “avoid the risk that putting information into the public domain concerning security arrangements made on past occasions, and the general approach to whether and if so what arrangements should be made, may impair the effectiveness of arrangements in place now, or which may be put in place in the future “.
He added: “Information about these matters would self-evidently be of interest to anyone wishing to harm a person within the scope of the security arrangements and would assist them to piece together previous practice with a view to anticipating present or future security provision.”
Thursday’s ruling was not a decision on the merits of the Prince’s case.