Since 1967, exemptions have been written into more than 160 British laws to grant sweeping immunity to the late Queen Elizabeth II in her capacity as monarch. Now, these exemptions have been transferred to King Charles, whose coronation takes place on May 6.
Under the legal doctrine of “sovereign immunity,” Charles is exempt from criminal and civil proceedings as the head of state. But the King’s immunity extends beyond his public duties to his conduct on privately-owned assets, estates, and businesses. Currently, more than 30 different laws bar the police from entering private royal estates without the sovereign’s permission to investigate suspected crimes. Charles is also exempt from punishment over wildlife offenses, environmental pollution, and other green crimes—a kind of legal immunity given to no other private landowner in the U.K.
The Royal Family’s official website previously stated that “although civil and criminal proceedings cannot be taken against the Sovereign as a person under U.K. law, The Queen is careful to ensure that all her activities in her personal capacity are carried out in strict accordance with the law.”
Below, some of the wildest laws that King Charles and other British royals are exempt from.
Traveling with a passport
As the British monarch, King Charles will not require a British passport to travel internationally. This is because, according to the Royal Family’s website which has not been updated since the Queen’s death, “a British passport is issued in the name of Her Majesty, it is unnecessary for The Queen to possess one.”
Under U.K. law, no other British citizens can travel internationally without a passport. Every passport issued by the U.K. under King Charles will have a preamble that reads: “His Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State requests and requires in the name of His Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.”
Similarly, the wording in newly-issued passports in countries where King Charles is head of state, like Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, will also have slight changes in wording. For example, passports issued in New Zealand will read: “The Governor-General in the Realm of New Zealand requests in the Name of His Majesty the King all whom it may concern to allow the holder to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful assistance and protection.”
Driving with a license and under the speed limit
Under the Road Traffic Regulation Act, the King and other members of the royal family can drive as fast or as slow as they please when they are escorted by police officers on official royal business. (The Prime Minister is also afforded the same right.)
The late Queen Elizabeth II reportedly never took an actual driving test and was able to drive without a license plate, since all driver’s licenses in the U.K. are issued in the monarch’s name. In 2019, it was reported that the Queen had decided to no longer drive on public roads “on the advice of her security team” after the late Duke of Edinburgh had been involved in a car crash earlier in the year in Sandringham.
As King, Charles is also no longer required to use a driver’s license while driving.
Under the Sovereign Grant Act of 2011, the King is not “legally liable to pay income tax, capital gains tax, or inheritance tax because the relevant enactments do not apply to the Crown.” The same rule applies to the income from the Duchy of Cornwall, which Prince William owns.
Although the monarch is not legally required to pay taxes, since 1993 the late Queen and her firstborn child have voluntarily paid tax on their income, assets, and gains not used for official purposes. The Royal Family’s website notes that “until his death, the Duke of Edinburgh paid tax on any part of his annuity that was not used wholly, exclusively, or necessarily in the performance of his official duties.” The same is true for Prince William, who “voluntarily pays income tax on all revenue from the estate.”
Other members of the Royal Family are fully liable for paying taxes like other British citizens, with the cost of their official duties allowed against tax.
While British citizens can face fines of up to £1,000 ($1,253) for evading jury duty, the King and his immediate family members are exempt from having to take part in jury duty under the criminal justice bill.
In the U.K., 60% of those summoned to do jury service did not serve, with doctors, vets, Members of Parliament, and judges currently exempt from serving. In 2003, MPs successfully argued to replace the exemption from jury service for all members of the royal family to just the monarch and their immediate family members, the Guardian reported. “The notion that anyone is too grand or too clever or too important to serve on a jury is not to be borne,” Brighton MP Desmond Turner said.
Racial, ethnic, and sexual equality laws
In the 1970s, the British government introduced laws against racial and sexual discrimination in the workplace, which were later folded into the 2010 Equality Act. However, documents by the Guardian revealed the Queen was reportedly exempt from these laws.
This means that any individuals working for the Royal Family cannot file a complaint to the court if they faced any discrimination under the categories of race, sex, and equal pay. A spokesperson from Buckingham Palace previously told reporters that the royal household and the sovereign complied with the provisions of the Equality Act, “in principle and in practice.”
In 1968, the Queen’s chief financial manager informed civil servants that “it was not, in fact, the practice to appoint colored immigrants or foreigners to clerical roles in the royal household.” It’s unknown when this practice ended, but in 1997, the Palace told the Independent that it did not officially monitor staff numbers to ensure equal opportunities. In March 2021, Buckingham Palace was reportedly considering appointing a diversity chief.
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