Aspects of Nehru and Mountbatten letters may remain redacted, UK court hears


Aspects of diaries and letters involving Lord Mountbatten, India’s last Viceroy, his wife Edwina and India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, at the heart of an appeal to decide whether they can be fully released , will remain redacted after a decision of a British court.

Judge Sophie Buckley presided over the UK First Tier (Information Rights) Court’s appeal to determine the fate of certain redacted sections of diaries and correspondence from the 1930s. She recently concluded that the University of Southampton did not “hold” any correspondence entitled “Letters from Lady Mountbatten to Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of newly independent India (33 files, 1948-1960), together with copies of her letters”. as part of its Broadlands archive and was only ”physically safeguarding the papers” on its premises.

“The Mountbatten collection is historically significant, but there were also significant issues at the state level – including the abuse of state power and censorship of our history,” said historian Andrew Lownie, who had launched a four-year battle for the release of the papers for his book ‘The Mountbattens: The Lives and Loves of Dickie and Edwina Mountbatten’.

Lownie, who has spent more than £250,000 of his savings on the case, notes that “now that 30,000 pages of diaries and letters have been published” any major revelations are unlikely as most of the information is available in other books and journals. He believes that his fight was about the “crucial principles of censorship and freedom of information”. The documents cover a significant period of Anglo-Indian history, including when the partition of India was overseen by Mountbatten, and involve diaries and letters from Lord Louis and his wife Lady Edwina Mountbatten. The UK Cabinet Office had argued that much of the information contained in these documents was already in the public domain and that any hidden aspects would “undermine the UK’s relations with other states”, in reference to India and in Pakistan.

In 2011 the University of Southampton purchased the archival material, named the Broadlands Archive, from the Mountbatten family, using public funds of over £2.8 million and with the intention of making the documents widely available . However, the university then returned some of the correspondence to the Cabinet Office.

In 2019, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) ruled in favor of Lownie and ordered the release of the entire Broadlands archive. The University of Southampton explained in response at the time that correspondence between Lady Mountbatten and Nehru remains in private property and is “confidential but the University has a future interest in it”. He could have asked to buy these letters, but would have chosen not to.

The ICO’s 2019 decision was appealed, which was heard by the First Tier Court in November last year and is now complete.

Prior to the hearing, the Cabinet Office had reduced the number of exemptions it sought to impose, so most letters and journals were then available. “This is a victory after four years of campaigning but there is still a £50,000 legal bill and so the crowdfunding must continue,” Lownie noted, in his fundraising appeal.

The author says he raised more than £63,000 in pledges on the website to fund the legal costs of the appeal.

The journals of Mountbatten, who was a great-grandson of Queen Victoria, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, an uncle of the late Duke of Edinburgh and great-uncle of Prince Charles, also contain personal correspondence within the royal family – another factor cited behind some editorials.

In May last year, the University of Southampton said it was releasing ‘previously unavailable papers’ from the Broadlands Archives collection online and that more material would be made available during the year. It is claimed that a majority of newspaper material is now in the public domain.

“The Broadlands Archives collection is one of the most important collections of manuscripts in the University Library…this important collection dates from the 16th century to the present day. The material provides a preeminent resource for British politics in the 19th and 20th centuries,” the university notes.

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


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