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Royal succession changes reach final hurdle

The changes to the rules governing the line of succession to the British and Commonwealth throne will be brought into effect in the coming weeks once Western Australia has passed its bill bringing the changes into law.


In 2011, the Commonwealth realms agreed upon changes to the laws governing succession to the crown which, among other changes, include allowing females equal rights to succeed to the throne (known as absolute primogeniture) as opposed to younger brothers having priority over them, and stopping the exclusion of royals who marry Catholics from the line of succession.

This agreement, which became known as the Perth agreement, initiated the start of a long legislative process to ensure the laws in all the countries where Queen Elizabeth II is Head of State are brought in line with each other.

Under the Perth agreement, the changes can only be brought into force when all the countries have brought in legislation which would effect the same changes as the British law. Since the starting of this process in 2013, each of the Commonwealth realms has now either passed laws or asserted that a change isn’t needed by their parliament, with the exception of Australia.

Last Thursday, royal assent was given to South Australia’s bill to effect the changes meaning only Western Australia remains to pass its Succession to the Crown bill.

Whilst there is a legal challenge to the law in Canada which is ongoing, there’s nothing to suggest this will impede the law being invoked across the Commonwealth realms once Australia has finalised its legislating.

The objective of the law change was to eliminate the gender discrimination in the line of succession in order to bring the Monarchy ‘up-to-date’ with modern values.

The changes the law will make in full are:

  • Introducing the rule of ‘absolute primogeniture’ to the line of succession to mean that men and women have the same rights of succession and the eldest child, irrespective of gender, succeeds. This rule will only apply to people born after 28th October 2011 however so will not change the current line of succession drastically (indeed its intention is to affect future generations and not to ‘alter anyone’s realistic chances of inheriting the throne’).
  • Repeal the law excluding those who marry Roman Catholics from the line of succession. This will mean that members of the Royal Family who married Catholics (such as Prince Michael of Kent) will regain their place in the line of succession. The change does not extend to Catholics themselves, who remain excluded.
  • Remove the requirement for all descendants of George II to have the Sovereign’s permission to marry. This change is very much overdue. With over 5,000 descendants of George II and many not aware they need The Queen’s permission to marry, some may have unknowingly had voided their marriages because of the Royal Marriages Act 1772. This provision causes all marriages which would be void because of this to be legitimated and also states that now only the first six people in the line of succession need the Monarch’s permission to marry. Under the law, if one of the six doesn’t obtain the Monarch’s permission, they lose their place in the succession.

Once all the realms have introduced the legislation (if required), an order in council will be given by the Lord President of the Privy Council (currently Nick Clegg, the UK’s Deputy Prime Minister) to bring the laws into force.

Whilst there are still very much some ‘loose ends’ to this law such as the status of the Duchy of Cornwall (the traditional title and land holding of the eldest son and heir of the Monarch), there is a bill in Parliament currently which seeks to update the laws to mean it is the eldest child and heir who will hold the Duchy.

Similarly, the changes leave hereditary titles (such as peerages) two steps behind with most only allowing males to succeed to them. A bill is also being introduced into the House of Lords to address this (read more about that here).

The effect of the law will not be felt for several generations and many decades yet since the birth of Prince George meant the possibility of a first-born daughter being usurped in the line by a younger brother is no longer a threat for now. In fact, the most senior members of the Royal Family to be affected by the introduction of absolute primogeniture at the moment are Tane and Senna Lewis (grandchildren of the Duke of Gloucester) – currently 28th and 29th in line to the throne respectively – who will swap places as Senna was born after 28th October 2011.

The provision would however affect Zara Tindall should she have a son, that son will not take her daughter Mia’s place in the line of succession.

The removal of the exclusion on spouses of Catholics will also not have an immediate resonance on any senior royal, with George, Earl of St Andrews (son of the Duke of Kent) being the most senior member of the Royal Family to be affected when he is restored to the line of succession (at 34th).

Once Western Australia has enacted the changes, it will be down to the Australian government at a federal level to do the same as a formality before the changes can be invoked.

photo credit: UK Parliament via photopin cc

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