Dhillon Murthi Law

Not All Wills are made equal

Open courts is the key principle of common law legal doctrine as justice must not only be done fairly; it should also be seen as being done fairly. The court records and court proceedings are always open to public, except very exceptional circumstance.

Under the common law, all Wills when filed in the court for probate application become part of the public record and must be available to public. Not sure when the Will is that of a monarch or member of monarch’s family. Monarch, more precisely called Sovereign is above lay members of public and is entitled certain unique protections.

The contents of the will of Prince Philip, the late husband of Queen Elizabeth II, are to remain secret for at least 90 years, a High Court judge ruled.

Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and the longest-serving royal consort in British history, died in April at Windsor Castle. He was 99 years old.

As is the convention following the death of a senior royal, an application was made to the Family Division at London’s High Court that Philip’s will remain sealed and not available to the public, as most wills are after they are granted probate.

Andrew McFarlane, the president of the court’s Family Division, ruled in favor of the request.

“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,” McFarlane said in a ruling published on Thursday.

McFarlane also said that he is the custodian of a safe with more than 30 envelopes containing sealed royal wills, including those of the late Queen Mother and the queen’s sister, Princess Margaret. They both died in 2002.

He said the oldest envelope contains the will of Prince Francis of Teck, Queen Mary’s younger brother and great uncle of Queen Elizabeth II. He died in 1910 at the age of 40 after catching pneumonia.

“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,” he said.

McFarlane said that some royal wills may never see the light of day.

“There may be circumstances where it would not be appropriate for a Royal will to be unsealed even after that period, whether in full or in part,” he wrote.