Debating Royal Immunity in Murder Laws

Sovereign immunity is a perk of being the current monarch of many countries, including the UK, Canada, Australia, and a whole lot more. To sum up, the Queen is essentially immune from legal consequences due to her status as a sovereign, often known as crown immunity. Does this imply that the Queen might abdicate whenever she pleased and still avoid punishment? Sure, in principle.

Since the queen possesses both sovereign and diplomatic immunity, she can essentially break the law anywhere in the globe and get away with it. The breadth of diplomatic immunity is so extensive that an individual protected by it might theoretically go all Lethal Weapon 2 on everyone with complete impunity, as we addressed in our essay on whether diplomats can truly get away with murder.

The only catch is that their home countries probably wouldn’t be very pleased with them doing this, and if the offenses were serious enough, they might even face prosecution back home. (However, as we mentioned in that article, it seems like every nation’s diplomats enjoy doing little things like breaking every traffic regulation and collecting hundreds of dollars in parking tickets without paying them.)

Regarding the queen again, though, she is theoretically not bound by British public opinion, unlike the vast majority of diplomats who enjoy diplomatic immunity.

You know, she enjoys some immunity because justice is administered in her name in the countries she oversees, including the UK. For obvious reasons (among them being the impracticality of doing so), the Queen does not personally administer justice in the same way that previous monarchs did. Because of this, judges all over Britain are given the post-nominal of QC, which stands for Queen’s Counsel, to acknowledge their role as an extension of the Queen’s will. Even though the Queen is considered the “fount of justice” for her subjects, the power to administer it is given to them by the Queen.

Similarly, all cases heard by the Crown Court are titled The Crown Versus *Blank* since it administers justice in the name of the Queen. This should come as no surprise, but trying the Queen in the Crown Court would mean she would have to prosecute herself, which is not conceivable.

Further investigation reveals that the Queen is also immune from civil trials, meaning that she is immune from lawsuits and other forms of civil action. Since the Queen cannot be arrested either, it is moot that she cannot be compelled to answer questions from the police or testify in open court.

It would be moot regardless of whether her arrest could be lawfully executed. Arrests cannot be made “in the monarch’s presence” (i.e., without her agreement) according to the law. Because her presence is necessary for an arrest to take place, this charge also renders her difficult to prosecute. Also, the police can’t arrest anyone—including the Queen—in any of her palaces at the moment without her permission, as if it weren’t already hard to apprehend someone simply by being in her presence.

It should be noted that all British prisoners are detained at Her Majesty’s leisure, meaning she could essentially command everyone to let her go and walk out of prison. This is how the Queen can pardon offenders if she so wants. Every member of the British police force is required to take an oath that states, in part, “I will well and truly serve the Queen in the office of constable.” This demonstrates that the police, like the court system, are entrusted with the responsibility of administering justice in the name of the Queen.

Other Immunity Laws For Monarchs

  • Monarchs or heads of state often enjoy immunity even in international waters. Their ships or vessels are considered extensions of their territory, granting them immunity from legal jurisdiction while on board.
  • Beyond personal legal immunity, the properties owned by the monarch or the crown typically enjoy immunity from certain laws and regulations, such as property taxes or local zoning regulations.
  • In some cases, the immunity extends to close family members of the monarch, protecting them from certain legal actions or prosecutions.
  • Monarchs may enjoy exemptions from customs duties and immigration controls when traveling, even in countries where they would typically be enforced for regular citizens.
  • While monarchs and the royal family often have extensive wealth and investments, their commercial ventures might benefit from limited liability or exemptions from certain business laws due to their status.
  • Monarchs or heads of state may have immunity from being called as witnesses in court proceedings, both domestically and internationally, to avoid potential disruptions to their official duties.
  • Monarchs or heads of state are usually exempt from jury duty in countries where they hold legal immunity, as serving on a jury could interfere with their official responsibilities.
  • In some jurisdictions, the monarch might have immunity for their speeches or statements made in an official capacity, protecting them from defamation or libel lawsuits.
  • Besides personal income taxes, monarchs might enjoy immunity from various other taxes, including inheritance taxes or certain property-related taxes.
  • When visiting foreign countries on official state visits, monarchs often have immunity from local laws, enabling them to carry out diplomatic functions without the risk of legal interference.

Charles’s Exemptions as King

As an heir to the throne and potentially future king, Charles would inherit certain legal exemptions traditionally associated with the monarch. These exemptions often include immunity from specific laws, although they are largely ceremonial and symbolic in modern times. It’s important to note that these privileges don’t translate into absolute immunity from all legal actions but are more aligned with historical precedents and symbolic significance within the monarchy.

Historical Punishments for Regicide

Regicide, historically considered a heinous crime against the monarchy, attracted severe and gruesome punishments. Those found guilty of regicide often faced brutal executions, symbolizing the ultimate consequence of threatening the monarchy’s existence. The grisly fate, including posthumous executions, public display of remains, and harsh imprisonment, served as a deterrent against such actions in historical contexts.

Could the Queen Get Away with Murder Legally?

The idea that the Queen, or any member of the Royal Family, could commit murder and evade legal consequences due to their immunity is a complex and highly speculative notion. The legal immunity in place primarily serves to protect the monarchy’s institutional integrity rather than grant impunity for criminal actions. Any criminal act, including murder, would undoubtedly provoke a significant constitutional and legal crisis, requiring careful navigation of legal procedures and constitutional principles.

Immunity vs. Legal Equality

At the heart of the debate lies the conflict between royal immunity and the principles of legal equality. The traditional immunity enjoyed by the monarchy raises crucial questions about the balance between upholding time-honored practices and ensuring that no individual, regardless of status, is above the law. Can immunity coexist with principles of justice and equality before the law in a modern society?

Impact of Public Perception

Beyond legal intricacies, the potential fallout from a monarch avoiding legal consequences for murder extends to the monarchy’s legitimacy. Public trust in the institution might erode significantly, potentially challenging its relevance in a democratic society. How does the public’s perception of the monarchy change in the wake of such a scenario?

Shaping Modern Interpretations

Analyzing historical cases involving royals implicated in crimes provides essential context. Understanding past approaches to handling such incidents offers insights into how modern legal interpretations may evolve. How have historical legal precedents shaped contemporary perspectives on royal immunity and legal accountability?

Legal and Diplomatic Complexities

The international implications of a sovereign accused of murder extend beyond national borders. This scenario presents diplomatic challenges and legal conundrums rarely encountered. How would other nations react to such an unprecedented situation involving a head of state? Exploring the global response and the intricate legal landscape provides a glimpse into the complexities involved.

Aligning with Modern Values

In an era of evolving societal values and legal frameworks, the debate leans towards reevaluating royal immunity. Discussions revolve around the necessity of reforming or redefining the scope of immunity enjoyed by the monarchy, particularly concerning serious criminal matters. How could potential reforms align the tradition of immunity with contemporary principles of justice?

The labyrinthine discussions encompassing royal immunity and the potential evasion of legal accountability for a serious crime like murder offer a profound glimpse into uncharted territories of legal and societal debate.

It lays bare the intricate tapestry of challenges faced when balancing age-old traditions with the evolving demands of justice and equality.