Rescued by the Law He Despises; Human Rights Act Is Used to Claim Prince's Civil Marriage Is Legal (but Experts Aren't Convinced)

Article excerpt

Byline: STEVE DOUGHTY

PRINCE Charles is to rely on European human rights law to ensure the legality of his marriage.

His intention to have a civil wedding is legally 'beyond doubt' because of new human rights rules, Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer said yesterday in an emergency statement.

His view is actually a humiliation for the prince, who until now has been a vehement critic of the Government's Human Rights Act.

Three years ago he told ministers he regarded it as a threat to 'sane, civilised and ordered existence'.

He wrote to the then Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine to make clear his views, in a letter which was later leaked to the Daily Mail.

In it, he wrote: 'I worry, despite your reassurances to me, that the longer-term effect of the Human Rights Act will be to provide opportunities which - whatever the sanity and reasonableness of our own judges - will only encourage people to take up causes which will make the pursuit of a sane, civilised and ordered existence ever more difficult.' The Act was 'only about the right of individuals (I am unable to find a list of social responsibilities attached to it) and this betrays a fundamental distortion in social and legal thinking.

'This is made worse because the litigious society is a vicious circle; the more people become litigious, the more

government legislates to proscribe those occasions which might lead to a third party having just cause to enter into litigation.

'(I am) struck to the degree to which our lives are becoming ruled by a truly absurd degree of politically correct interference.' But it was this very Act which Lord Falconer cited in his attempt to quash speculation that Charles's wedding will be null and void because British marriage law forbids members of the Royal Family from marrying outside the Church of England.

The 1998 Human Rights Act - which takes its lead from European human rights laws - is highly controversial. The Tories will consider repealing it if they win the General Election.

Prominent lawyers, including the Prime Minister's wife Cherie Blair, believe the public see human rights law as a boon for 'undeserving characters' such as terrorists and murderers, failed asylum seekers and travellers trying to circumvent planning rules.

Yesterday's statement by Lord Falconer came after Charles demanded 'clarification' of the law amid growing alarm over the legal status of his wedding. Authoritative critics have said the 1836 Marriage Act, which first allowed civil weddings, bars them to members of the Royal Family, and that no law passed since has altered that.

The Lord Chancellor said: 'The Government is satisfied that it is lawful for the Prince of Wales and Mrs Parker Bowles, like anyone else, to marry by a civil ceremony in accordance with Part III of the Marriage Act 1949.' Lord Falconer said the 1836 Act had been superseded by the 1949 law, and that Section 45 of the 1836 Act, the clause which bars civil marriage to royals, had been repealed in 1953. The 1949 law states that 'nothing in this Act shall affect any law or custom relating to the marriage of members of the Royal Family'.

But Lord Falconer said this does not exclude the royals from civil marriage. He rejected the advice accepted by governments in the past that royals could not marry in register offices. …