National Archives media statement following Federal Court judgement

Media release: Friday, 16 March 2018

The Federal Court has heard arguments regarding the public release of the so-called 'Palace letters', and whether they should be regarded as Commonwealth records or the private papers of Sir John Kerr.

The Court has now handed down its judgement.

The Court determined that private and personal correspondence has traditionally been regarded as the personal property of the correspondents. This view has also been taken in respect of correspondence to and from The Queen with other Governors-General, including Sir Paul Hasluck, Sir Zelman Cowen and Sir Ninian Stephen.

The Court also found that, in providing periodic briefings to The Queen, Sir John Kerr was not exercising the executive power of the Commonwealth under s 61 of the Constitution.

The Court noted that Archives' construction of the Act conforms with the view taken in the United Kingdom, where such correspondence (as well as other private and personal records of The Queen) are housed in the Royal Archives and access to them is governed by specific agreements.

The Court also found that the records are not "the property of the official establishment of the Governor-General".

In line with the judgement, the personal records of Sir John Kerr will remain subject to the conditions set out in the Instrument of Deposit.

These conditions dictate that the records remain closed until 2027. They are also subject to a further caveat that they should be released only after consultation with the Sovereign's Private Secretary of the day and with the Governor-General's Official Secretary of the day.

The summary document and a copy of the published reasons for judgment are both available for download from the Federal Court website.

More information on Instruments of Deposit and the Archives' handling of personal records can be found here.

The Director-General of the National Archives Mr David Fricker is available for interview by request.

Contact information

  • Sophia McDonald (Senior Communications Officer)
    t (02) 6212 3697 m 0417 247 157 e media@naa.gov.au

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Copyright National Archives of Australia 2018