What impact did Queen Elizabeth have on the constitution & the law?

  • Sovereign Immunity
  • No obligation to pay Tax
  • Major Legislative changes

Sovereign immunity

Under the longstanding doctrine of sovereign immunity, criminal and civil proceedings cannot be brought against the monarch.

The monarch has a public and a private legal persona. The public figure, serving as head of state, owns historic assets which cannot be sold such as the royal art collection and Buckingham Palace which Queen Elizabeth II used to refer to as “the Council House at the end of The Mall”.

The second is a private individual who can buy and sell investments and assets like any other person. The Sandringham and Balmoral estates are private assets of the Windsor family.

Whilst there is general immunity afforded to the Sovereign specific exemptions are also written into various laws including into more than 160 laws since 1967.

More than 30 different laws, for example, stipulate that police are barred from entering the Balmoral and Sandringham estates to investigate suspected crimes without the Sovereign’s permission.

The monarch also has immunity from anti-discrimination laws and as a private employer from having to observe various workers’ rights, pensions and health and safety laws. Employees of the monarch cannot pursue sexual and racial discrimination complaints.

Tax

The monarch is exempt from paying taxes or providing information to the bodies that collect them. The Queen first paid tax voluntarily in 1992.

There were many major legislative changes made during Queen Elizabeth II’s 70 year reign including:

Succession

Princess Charlotte – the first princess who will not be overtaken in the line to the throne by a younger brother.

Under the Act of Settlement 1701, the throne was decided on male-preference meaning that older sisters were passed by their younger brothers in the order of succession. Princess Anne, The Queen’s second oldest child born in 1950, was therefore behind her younger brothers Prince Andrew born in 1960 and Prince Edward born in 1964 and their descendants. This Act also prevented a Roman Catholic from inheriting the English throne and removed those who had married Roman Catholics from the line of succession.

In 2013, The Queen gave Royal Assent to the Succession to The Crown Act, enabling both sons and daughters of any future UK monarch to have an equal right to the Throne.

Under the Act the gender of a royal born after October 28, 2011 does not give that person, or their descendants, precedence over anyone else in determining the next monarch. Accordingly when Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, now the Princess of Wales, gave birth to her third child Prince Louis (her second son) in 2018 Princess Charlotte’s order in the line of succession to the Throne did not change based on her gender. Princess Charlotte, born in 2015, is the first princess who will not be overtaken in the line to the throne by a younger brother.

European union

– Britain in and out of EU

European Communities Act 1972 made provision in connection with the enlargement of the European Communities to include the United Kingdom.

UK joined the European Communities as a member state on 1 January 1973 together with Denmark and the Republic of Ireland.

The UK voted to leave the EU in 2016 and officially left EU 31st January 2020. The UK is free to set its own trade policy and can negotiate deals with other countries. There is no longer freedom to live and work between the UK and the EU. UK nationals now need a visa if they want to stay in the EU more than 90 days in a 180-day period. Several other laws are being changed as a result of the shift of power back to UK.

Devolution

Devolution is about how parliaments and governments make decisions. Queen Elizabeth’s reign saw separate legislatures and executives in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They have many powers to make laws and deliver public services called devolved powers. The UK Parliament and UK Government retain some powers across the whole of the UK called reserved powers.

In 1997 voters chose to create a Scottish Parliament and a National Assembly for Wales. In Northern Ireland devolution was a key element of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and was supported in a referendum in 1998. The UK Government has also developed decentralisation in England.

Key legislation includes:

– Scotland Act 1998, Northern Ireland Act 1998, Greater London Authority Act 1999, Government of Wales Act 2006, Northern Ireland Act 2006, Northern Ireland Act 2009, Scotland Act 2012, Wales Act 2014 and the Scotland Act 2016.

Other key legislation enacted during Queen Elizabeth’s reign includes:

House of Lords: Life Peerages Act 1958 – creation of life peers

House of Lords Act 1999 all but abolished hereditary peerages

Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 the first time set in legislation a default fixed election date for a general election and removed PM’s ability to choose when to call a snap election.

Human Rights Act 1998 incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law

– Sexual Offences Act 1967 / 2003 decriminalised homosexual acts

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 was passed on 17 July 2013.The first marriages of same sex couples took place on Saturday 29 March 2014.

Freedom of Information Act 2000 creates a public “right of access” to information held by public authorities

Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 sets out the principal legislation regarding intellectual property rights.

 Judiciary

Until 2006, the Lord Chancellor was part of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. On April 3 2006 The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 established the Lord Chief Justice as President of the Courts of England and Wales and Head of its Judiciary, a role previously performed by the Lord Chancellor. The judiciary was officially recognised as a fully independent branch of the government.

Courts Act 1971 – reforms and modernises the courts system of England and Wales. It established the Crown Court, introduced the posts of circuit judge and recorder and abolished various local courts across the country

All the King’s men & women – QCs become KCs:

Various changes from money to stamps will eventually be made following the transition from the second Elizabethan age to the third Caroline age.

Her Majesty’s Theatre on London’s Haymarket, built in 1897, will be renamed His Majesty’s Theatre , LWTheatres / Andrew Lloyd Webber (who have owned the building since 2000) have confirmed.

One change, however, was automatic. One consequence of Queen Elizabeth II’s death was that Queen’s Counsel (QC) became King’s Counsel (KC).

The Bar Council pointed out: “We have been advised by the Crown Office that the title Queen’s Counsel (QC) changes to King’s Counsel (KC) with immediate effect. The change is automatic so there are no new Letters Patent.”

The title King’s Counsel is likely to endure for at least 100 years given the prospective male lineage of the Royal Family.

The title of KC is awarded to those who have demonstrated particular skill and expertise in advocacy. KCs are appointed by the U.K. monarch, on the advice of the Lord Chancellor who works with advisors on an independent selection panel. The first Queen’s Counsel (QC) was appointed in 1597 by Queen Elizabeth I.

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