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Wednesday, 6 December, 2000, 18:13 GMT
Act of Settlement: What's in the small print?
Guardian attacks law on succession to the throne
The Act of Settlement is best known for setting down the conditions for who can be king or queen. But that's only half the story...

For most ordinary folk, the problems that have beset the Royal Family in recent years would put anyone off wanting to be head of state.

But for some at least, it's more a matter of principle.

As it stands, if you are Catholic, illegitimate or adopted then any thoughts of laying claim to the English throne may as well be abandoned.

Alan Rusbridger
Alan Rusbridger wants change
The Act of Settlement was introduced in 1701 to outline the rules of royal succession and the powers of the Crown and decrees that only the Protestant heirs of Princess Sophia, grand-daughter of King James I, can succeed to the English throne.

But the Act, which defines the rules of royal succession and the powers of the Crown, is seen as an anachronism by The Guardian newspaper.

It is challenging this and The Treason Felony Act under new Human Rights legislation with the help of the leading civil rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson.

"No-one can really defend an Act which forbids Catholics from becoming a country's head of state," said The Guardian's Editor, Alan Rusbridger.

The Act of Settlement also discriminates against women by favouring male heirs.

But there are many more obscure details buried in the text, although some of these have since been removed.

Caught in the Act - the small print

  • All future monarchs must join in communion with the Church of England

  • The sovereign must also promise to uphold the Protestant succession

  • The monarch must not leave the country without the permission of Parliament (since repealed).

  • He or she must not involve the country in wars to defend the territories of foreign monarchs.

  • No judges should be appointed by the monarch.

  • Judges should receive fixed salaries.

  • Impeachment by the House of Commons is not subject to pardon under the Great Seal of England.

Among those who may want to lay claim to the throne are royal descendants of the House of Hanover.

German search

With this in mind, The Guardian has placed an advert in a German newspaper asking if any of the dispossessed wish to take part in the action to reclaim their birthright.

It has also called for a referendum to determine what sort of head of state Britain should have once the Queen dies.

The newspaper may face an uphill battle persuading the legislature to end centuries of tradition, but if a succession of disgruntled German royals beat a path to the courts it might reinforce the paper's position that it won't give up without a fight.

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