While the Queen may be otherwise known as the ‘Fount of Justice’ and recognised as a figure in whose name law and order is carried out, Her Majesty isn’t always obliged to follow the law.
And that’s because HRH is exempt from several laws that ordinary people in the UK must abide by.
On the Royal Family website, ‘although civil and criminal proceedings cannot be taken against the Sovereign as a person under UK law, The Queen is careful to ensure that all her activities in her personal capacity are carried out in strict accordance with the law'.
It’s a subject that has caught the attention of the press this week after the Guardian reported that it had discovered documents to suggest the Queen and her household were previously exempt from laws that govern race and sex discrimination.
The papers were reportedly discovered at the National Archives, as part of the publication’s investigation into the Royal Family and parliamentary procedure (known more commonly as ‘Queen’s consent’). The papers are believed to suggest that despite government ministers seeking to introduce laws in the 1960s that made it illegal to refuse employment to individuals on the grounds of race, ethnicity and sexuality, the Queen and her household have been exempt from such laws.
While Buckingham Palace reportedly didn’t deny that the Queen had been exempted from the laws to the Guardian, and noted the household has a separate process for hearing discrimination complaints, it failed to comment when questioned what its process consists of.
The news comes weeks after Meghan Markle and Prince Harry sat down for an interview with TV host Oprah Winfrey and detailed their experience of living and working among the Royal Family, with the Duchess of Sussex alleging that a member of the family expressed concern over the colour of their child Archie’s skin prior to his birth.
The Palace later issued a statement which read, in part:
The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.
Here is a list of rules that the Queen, her family and household are exempt from:
1) The Queen holds sovereign immunity
As previously stated, the Queen is exempt from prosecution under civil or criminal investigation.
Of course, that’s not to say that members of the Royal Family aren’t able to mix with legal proceedings.
In 1870, King Edward VII voluntarily appeared as a witness in a divorce case when Lady Mordaunt falsely accused him of being one of her lovers, reports the Guardian. Years later in 1891, he appeared as a witness in the Tranby Croft case regarding a slander accusation following a card game.
Fast forward to the 21st century and Princess Anne reportedly appeared before magistrates with her husband, Commodore Timothy Laurence, after she was accused of keeping a dangerous dog which allegedly attacked a couple and was also later fined for speeding, according to the publication.
Last year, the BBC reported that Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, had been asked by US authorities to testify about his relationship with the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. The royal previously stated that he did not witness any suspicious behaviour during his visits to the former mogul’s homes.
During his interview with the BBC's Newsnight programme in November 2019, the Duke of York denied having sex with Virginia Giuffre, who alleged she was trafficked by Epstein at the age of 17. Prince Andrew later said he was ‘willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency’.
2) The Queen is exempt from racial, ethnic and sexual equality laws
Newly discovered documents by the Guardian reveal that in 1968, the Queen’s chief financial manager informed civil servants that ‘it was not, in fact, the practice to appoint coloured immigrants or foreigners’ to clerical roles in the royal household. It’s unknown when this ‘practice’ ended.
In the 1970s, the government introduced laws to fight against racial and sexual discrimination in the workplace, such as the 1976 Race Relations Act and the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act. The 2010 Equality Act later merged several of these acts together.
However, as previously stated, the Queen is reportedly personally except from those equality laws, which means that it’s impossible for individuals to make a complaint to the courts if they believe they’ve faced any sort of discrimination which falls under the categories of race, sex and equal pay.
The Guardian notes the documents reveal ‘how government officials in the 1970s coordinated with Elizabeth Windsor’s advisers on the wording of the laws’.
In 1997 the Palace told the Independent that it was not officially monitoring staff numbers to ensure equal opportunities.
A Buckingham Palace spokesperson reportedly said: ‘The royal household and the sovereign comply with the provisions of the Equality Act, in principle and in practice. This is reflected in the diversity, inclusion and dignity at work policies, procedures and practices within the royal household.
‘Any complaints that might be raised under the act follow a formal process that provides a means of hearing and remedying any complaint.’
The palace reportedly didn’t respond when asked if the monarch was subject to this act in law, according to the Guardian.
In March, the Independent reported Buckingham Palace was considering appointing a diversity chief.
The news came after Prince William told reporters that the Royal Family was ‘very much not’ racist following the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Winfrey interview in the US.
3) The Queen doesn’t need a passport to travel
While previous British passports feature the Royal Arms (prior to the release of new post-Brexit passports), the Queen doesn’t require a British passport herself.
‘As a British passport is issued in the name of Her Majesty, it is unnecessary for The Queen to possess one,’ a statement on the Royal Family website reads.
However, all other members of her family, including the late Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles had/have passports.
Meanwhile, a message on the first page of British passports reads:
Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.
Under UK law, there is no entitlement to a passport and no statutory right to have access to a passport.
4) The Queen doesn’t need a driving license
She might have been a trained driver and mechanic in the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service during World War II but the Queen has never been required to take a driving test.
As matter of fact, it’s believed she doesn’t even need to drive with a number plate.
In 2019 the Sunday Times reported that the Queen had decided to no longer drive on public roads, ‘on the advice of her security team’. The news came after the late Duke of Edinburgh had been involved in a car crash earlier in the year in Sandringham.
If anyone else was stopped by the police and failed to show their driving licence, insurance certificate and MOT certificate within seven days of being asked, they'd be breaking the law.
5) The Royal Family don’t have to use their surnames
It’s been over 100 years since members of the Royal Family haven’t had to use a surname, rather the name of their house or dynasty.
‘Members of the Royal Family can be known both by the name of the Royal house, and by a surname, which are not always the same. And often they do not use a surname at all,’ the Royal Family’s website explains.
‘Just as children can take their surnames from their father, so sovereigns normally take the name of their 'House' from their father.’
The Queen confirmed her family’s name Windsor following her accession in 1952. Years later, she issued a new Letters Patent (LP) that stated while the House name remains Windsor, the family name would be Mountbatten Windsor, which stems from Prince Philip’s surname and the Queen’s
‘It was therefore declared in the Privy Council that The Queen's descendants, other than those with the style of Royal Highness and the title of Prince/Princess, or female descendants who marry, would carry the name of Mountbatten-Windsor,’ explains the family’s website.
While the children of Prince William and Kate Middleton hold the surname ‘Cambridge’, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle decided to choose the surname ‘Mountbatten-Windsor’ for their firstborn child, Archie.
According to the Deed Poll Office:
There is no law preventing you from being known by a single name, or mononym — that is, a first name only, with no surname — and HM Passport Office should accept such a name, although they may be more sceptical of your application.
6) The Monarch isn’t legally required to pay taxes
According to the .Gov website, under the Sovereign Grant Act of 2011 Her Majesty is not ‘legally liable to pay income tax, capital gains tax or inheritance tax because the relevant enactments do not apply to the Crown’.
The same stands for the income from the Duchy of Cornwall, which is paid to Prince Wales.
However, since 1993 the Queen and her firstborn child have voluntarily paid tax in the same way as everyone else does. Her Majesty also voluntarily pays capital gains tax, inheritance tax, and tax on The Queen’s Privy Purse income ‘ to the extent that it is not used for official purposes’.
‘Other members of the Royal Family are fully liable to tax in the normal way. The cost of their official duties is allowed against tax,’ the website notes. ‘Until his death, the Duke of Edinburgh paid tax on any part of his annuity that was not used wholly, exclusively or necessarily in the performance of his official duties.’
In the UK, if you fail to pay taxes you can be charged a penalty when your payment is 30 days late, and again at six and 12 months (plus interest). The penalty is 5% of the original amount you owe HMRC, according to CitizensAdvice.org.
7) The Queen is exempt from the Freedom Of Information Act
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 and and the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 means that from that date any person can make a request to see information held by public authorities.
However, as the Royal Household is not a public authority within the meaning of the FOI Acts, it’s exempt from their provisions.
‘Despite its exemption from the FOI Acts, the Royal Household's policy is to provide information as freely as possible in other areas, and to account openly for its use of public money. For example, full details of public funding of the Head of State have been provided since 2001; annual financial reports covering the arrangements under the Sovereign Grant will be posted online in June of each year,’ reads the Royal Family website.
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