Sunday, 2 June 2013

60 years ago today

2nd June is the 60th Anniversary of the Coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II.  The BBC has had the original footage digitally remastered - see here and the The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II  may be viewed on BBC Parliament from 1010 BST on Sunday 2 June.

The Queen's accession to the throne actually took place upon the death of her father King George VI on 6th February 1952 - 60 years a Queen: the Diamond Jubilee.  In the years of post war austerity, the Coronation was a splendid occasion and seemed, at the time, to lift the spirits of the country.  It was televised but few homes, at least where I lived, had a receiver.  In those - now seemingly far away days - the Queen made her Coronation Oath :

Archbishop. Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon, and of your Possessions and the other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs?

Queen. I solemnly promise so to do.

Archbishop. Will you to your power cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all your judgements?

Queen. I will.

The Coronation Oath is based on the Coronation Oaths Act 1688 section III.  An interesting document was issued by Parliament on 27th August 2008 - The Coronation Oath. (pdf).  The document cites Halsbury's Laws ([Vol 8(2) paras 28 and 39] which states that the duties imposed by the coronation oath are:

(1) to govern the peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the dominions etc belonging or pertaining to them according to their respective laws and customs;

(2) to cause law and justice in mercy to be executed in all judgments, to the monarch's power;

(3) to maintain the laws of god, the true profession of the Gospel, and the protestant reformed religion established by law, to the utmost of the Sovereign's power;

(4) to maintain and preserve inviolable the settlement of the Church of England, and its doctrine, worship, discipline and government as by law established in England; and

(5) to preserve unto the bishops and clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them.

Does this old law - with its antiquated wording - have relevance to our modern country.  Items (3) to (5) in the list relate to the Church of England - an established church with the sovereign as its Supreme Governor.

Item (1) links to the oath to govern the various peoples according to 'their respective laws and customs.'   The  Act of Settlement s 4, declared that 'whereas the laws of England are the birthright of the people thereof and all the kings and queens who shall ascend the throne of this realm ought to administer the government of the same according to the said laws and all their officers and ministers ought to serve them respectively according to the same ... the same are....ratified and confirmed accordingly.'   

In modern times, the sovereign does not govern personally.  This is left to Parliament (the legislature) and to Ministers of the Crown (the executive).   The judiciary have an immense role to play in upholding the rule of law.  The sovereign has the rights to be consulted, to encourage, to warn - Walter Bagehot 'The English Constitution' (1867).

The fact that the Queen governs through Ministers is recognised in the Act of Settlement which says that all their officers and ministers ought to serve them respectively according to the same. The Act remains part of our law.

Of course, nothing in the Act of Settlement prevents the law being altered by constitutional process such as an Act of Parliament but the words 'the laws ... are the birthright of the people' are interesting.  Are they just a flowery expression without meaning?  I do not think so.  The idea that the monarch is subject to the law was reflected in Magna Carta some 500 years before the Act of Settlement.  Fundamentally, the Act of Settlement recognised that the law belongs to the people and it is the duty of legislators to act in ways which preserve constitutional fundamentals such as the rule of law and the ability for the ordinary citizen, regardless of wealth or status, to have recourse to justice.  In that light, the attacks of the present government on legal aid and access to justice are unacceptable and appear to be contrary to the constitutional settlement which has existed since the Act of Settlement.

Her Majesty is now the second longest ruling monarch.  Queen Victoria (1819-1901) ascended to the throne on 20th June 1837 at the age of 18.  She died on 22nd January 1901.  Queen Elizabeth's reign would become longer on, I think, 9th September 2015.

The Queen is Head of the Commonwealth and is also Head of State of several independent nations. 

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