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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 October 2005, 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK
The legal arguments
After Panorama's previous programme, "Lawful Impediment?", on 13 February 2005, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, explained on 23 February why the government was confident the marriage was valid.

As Panorama had suggested, the Human Rights Act was a key part of his argument. Disclosing government legal advice was an unusual course of action, which some believe may have been taken reluctantly in case it created a precedent for publishing the Lord Chancellor's legal opinion endorsing war in Iraq (which was later leaked).

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After the Lord Chancellor's statement, Panorama spoke again to two of the legal experts whose doubts had informed the making of our programme .

Valentine Le Grice QC

On the Marriage Act itself I still think that the Lord Chancellor's Opinion was wrong. It's true the Act needs to be read in the context of the Human Rights Act. - but the Human Rights Act is not meant to amend or substitute legislation. Perhaps the Lord Chancellor simply felt that no one would challenge his decision. If so he was playing fast and loose with the constitution. Looked at from the point of view of the rule of law, that is more important than the question which generated the debate.

Doctor Stephen Cretney

'I believe that the marriage is valid, because the Registrar General granted his licence for it to take place, and that decision was not challenged in legal proceedings. But I remain unhappy about the events leading up to that decision. The real point is that no one ever tested the correctness of the Lord Chancellor's opinion: the person who gave the decisive ruling was the Registrar-General who is not a lawyer. No doubt he took advice but there was no hearing at which the Lord Chancellor's views could be properly tested. It would in theory have been possible for someone to take judicial review proceedings to question the R-G ruling but in practice given the expense and the time constraints - although everyone must have had a very anxious time - this was not a practical proposition.

I still believe it to be doubtful whether the legislation, on its true construction, does allow the option of a statutory civil marriage to members of the Royal Family. I believe that the marriage is valid, because the Registrar General granted his licence for it to take place, and that decision was not challenged in legal proceedings. But I remain unhappy about the events leading up to that decision.

The law about marriage (and especially marriage of members of the Royal Family) is very complex and technical: I set out my views in an article "Royal Marriages: the Law in a Nutshell" published in the journal "Family Law" [2005] Fam. Law 317-321, Jordan Publshing, Bristol, and I stand by them.

A further view

The Worshipful Mark Hill, Chancellor of the Diocese of Chichester and Editor of the Ecclesiastical Law Journal also gave us his personal view of the whole affair:

It is surprising that the Lord Chancellor declared the proposed civil ceremony to be lawful by means of parliamentary statement and press release rather than using the specific powers contained in the Human Rights Act 1998 allowing remedial action to remedy legislation which is incompatible with the European Convention as the Marriage Acts so clearly were and remain. What is constitutionally offensive in the Lord Chancellor's action is that it represents the re-writing of legislation by the executive without going through the checks and balances of judicial process and parliamentary procedure. Less scrupulous ministers might start re-writing legislation without the Lord Chancellor's benign motive in this instance. Thus the liberal intent of the Human Rights Act will be lost by its metamorphosis into a fascist instrument. The usurpation by a Minister of State of the court's constitutional function of statutory interpretation is indicative of totalitarian regimes and, left unchecked, represents a real constitutional evil.

One Crown or Two?

Cardiff Law School's Dr Augur Pearce, consulted by Panorama, told us that the Coronation Oath Act (1688) "assumes" the monarch will be crowned, but does not expressly "require" one. Nor does it "detail the form of service" and the King "can decide that his wife should or should not be crowned Queen." Dr Pearce, for one, certainly would not object to her being crowned.

Halsbury's legal encyclopaedia asserts that A Queen Consort remains a private citizen and is not entitled as of right to be crowned. But another expert told us, "if the Establishment thinks that it is desirable for Camilla to become crowned, then it will happen - they can find legal justifications for this."

But thrones may be a different matter...

During our research in the National Archives we found a 1956 memo addressed to Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden considering where the Duke of Edinburgh should sit if he attended the Opening of Parliament. The memo says that "there should be a single throne for the Queen, and that a Chair of State should be placed on the left of the throne for the Duke of Edinburgh."


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