News Analysis

Friday 19 September 2014

Mary Kenny: Legal eagles cast doubt on Charles's union with Camilla

Published 12/04/2010 | 05:00

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CAMILLA, Duchess of Cornwall, broke her leg while hill-walking last week, which can't have been very pleasant. But such mishaps can occur to ladies of a certain age, when the bones become somewhat more brittle. She took it in the stoical style expected of a military caste -- which is what an aristocracy originally was.

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But perhaps of more concern to Duchess Camilla is the suggestion currently being made that her marriage to Prince Charles falls short of constitutional legality.

The pair were married at Windsor five years ago in a civil ceremony and endorsed with a religious blessing. But doubts have continuously been expressed as to whether the marriage was constitutionally legal.

Within the definition of ordinary procedures, it certainly was a legal marital union, performed by an official registrar, before appropriate witnesses and having ascertained that both partners were free to enter into a marriage contract.

But within the British constitution, a royal marriage -- particularly one affecting the heir to the throne -- is governed by special acts of parliament, as well as by legal contract.

The constitutional conditions for Charles's marriage to Camilla are still undisclosed. Indeed, the British government has been accused of a cover-up in keeping the details of the marriage secret. Justice secretary Jack Straw has refused a freedom-of-information application to make these details public.

It seems that the legal details will not be released until after the death of the Prince of Wales -- because the material is deemed to be 'sensitive'.

It is not unusual for sensitive material to be kept in a closed archive for a long time -- all official material about Queen Elizabeth's visits to Northern Ireland over the past five decades are in a closed archive and will not be revealed for perhaps 50 years. This is to allow the healing hand of history to lay its balm upon contemporary events.

But the secrecy over Charles's marriage to Camilla does have a dimension of immediate public interest.

If and when Charles becomes king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and and Northern Ireland, will the Duchess of Cornwall actually be his constitutionally wedded wife?

It would hardly be edifying if a mystery were to hang over this question or if it became the source of continual public discourse.

ALIBERAL Democrat MP, Norman Baker -- who is a critic of the monarchy and frequently calls for more transparency about its institutional position -- says that the British public has "a right to know" why the marriage details are being covered up.

The Labour administration, led by Tony Blair and the then lord chancellor, Lord Falconer, gave a legal ruling that cleared the way for Charles's and Camilla's marriage -- although previous statues of parliament had specifically prohibited members of the royal family from marrying in a registry office.

However, this legal ruling by Blair and Falconer was never made public and that is what is animating critics like Norman Baker and the political investigator, Michael Jones, who suggests that Lord Falconer's rulings were legally and constitutionally incorrect.

Does it matter? It does to constitutionalists, who say that the details of constitutional legalities must be correct, and to parliamentarians and other campaigners who are opposed to 'secrecy' in any arm of the state -- which, of course, includes the monarchy.

As we know from recent events in the Catholic Church in Ireland and elsewhere, the sharpest critique is not just against errors or mistakes, but against secrecy and cover-ups of any kind. We live in an age when a lack of transparency is considered the greatest sin.

And it may matter to Charles and Camilla, too, if their union -- which seems such a tranquil and contented pairing -- is beset by niggling (and perhaps pedantic) questions about its legality.

It is an area of some sensitivity. We do not know whether -- when Charles finally inherits -- the Duchess of Cornwall will also become queen.

Constitutional experts differ on this point. There are those who say the historical position is that the king's wife is automatically the queen.

On the other hand, there are those who claim that Camilla will be a consort, but not a queen. The title 'Duchess of Cornwall' was bestowed upon her in order to avoid the title of 'Princess of Wales', which is normally attached to the wife of the Prince of Wales.

Among certain sections of the populace, Diana still casts a long shadow. The Dianistas do not forget the 'one and only' Princess of Wales. Only last week, Tina Brown, a leading Dianista, claimed that Prince William's over-lengthy courtship to Kate Middleton (they have now been together for seven years) was negatively influenced by the example of Charles and Diana's ultimately unhappy marriage.

William is wary of marriage and commitment because of his parents' divorce, wrote Ms Brown, (formerly the editor of the prestigious 'New Yorker').

Queen Elizabeth's long and healthy life -- she will shortly celebrate her 84th birthday and, in 2012, the jubilee of 60 years as sovereign -- may be a trial of patience to Charles as king-in-waiting.

And yet, it also protects him and Camilla from these constitutional controversies, which are more likely to arise when it comes to his coronation.

The ministry of justice has confirmed that there is secret information about Lord Falconer's procedures in sanctioning the Charles and Camilla marriage. However, it did not wish to release this because it could lead to a challenge in court.

How poor Camilla must loathe these meddling and pernickety barrack-room lawyers, who love to pore over documentary details in the name of constitutional niceties.

Irish Independent

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