Royal Rights And Wrongs
I was surprised that last night's Panorama chose to pick over the bones of the last Royal Wedding when there is no lack of more important subjects to cover. The one interesting question, the legality of the marriage, was something they'd covered in their last series but they failed to explore the full implications of this. They were too busy interviewing Jonathan Dimbleby, Lickspittle By Royal Appointment to the Prince of Wales.
In law, the royal family are excluded from civil marriages. That's one reason why Princess Margaret couldn't marry Peter Townsend. When this became a topic of debate in the media, the Government, instead of quickly changing the law, fell back on the Human Rights Act which meant that specific groups of people could not be excluded from civil marriage.
The irony of this was that Charles hates the Human Rights Act. I suppose a Divine Right of Kings Act would be more to his taste. One can't help wondering if Ministers did this on purpose. Charles, instead of blogging like the rest of us, fires off lots of handwritten letters to Ministers complaining about the awfulness of things like human rights.
If a piece of legislation is found to conflict with the Human Rights Act, it doesn't instantly become null and void. The Government, through Parliament, have to repeal or amend it. By telling the royal family to simply ignore the civil marriage legislation, the Government didn't follow due process. They didn't want legislation about the monarchy because there are some republican MP's in Parliament who might have taken the opportunity to express views that are shared by a significant number of the people they represent - a shocking and relatively new concept called democracy.
But even more intriguing is the precedent that the Government may have set. Because once you concede that the monarchy is subject to the provisions of the Human Rights Act then many principles of our monarchy become untenable. For example, the prohibition on the monarch being a Catholic. Or the principle that male children take precedence over female children in the succession.
Of course, it's unlikely that any of these discriminatory practices will be changed in the near future. Because there's a much older precedent followed by the monarchy - that you make things up as you go along and use legislation when it suits you and exempt yourself from it when it doesn't. It's an à la carte attitude to law that's followed by a lot of other people in our society but about 80,000 of those are currently behind bars.