Act that Prince despises is used to back his marriage

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The Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles can marry as it is their right under the Human Rights Act, the Lord Chancellor has said in a written statement to MPs.

In a bid to quash confusion surrounding the legality of the impending royal wedding, Lord Falconer of Thoroton declared its legality was "beyond doubt". He said a civil ceremony would not break the law because the royals were protected by the Human Rights Act that came into force five years ago. The Lord Chancellor was forced to issue the clarification yesterday amid fears that the wedding could face a formal challenge.

Last night, Lord Falconer faced a call for the swift repeal of the laws governing royal weddings. Opposition MPs said it was "absurd" for the state to intervene in the marriage plans of individuals - even if they were royal. David Heath, the Liberal Democrat constitutional affairs spokesman, said "members of the Government should have nothing to do with whether two individuals should get married".

He said: "Sensible people have been saying for years that laws which govern the marriage arrangements of the Royal Family are archaic. The marriage arrangements are not something that should be a matter for the Government."

Since the weekend, legal and constitutional commentators have been questioning Lord Falconer's judgement in advising the Queen that the civil wedding would be legal. He has responded by invoking the Human Rights Act which, he says, makes it clear that Prince Charles has a right to marry in a civil ceremony like anyone else in the UK. His reliance on the Act, however, which enshrines a "right to marry" without discrimination, is likely to be questioned by lawyers.

The situation is also ironic as Prince Charles railed against the Act in letters to Lord Irvine of Lairg, Lord Falconer's predecessor as Lord Chancellor. As part of a letter-writing campaign to Government, Prince Charles "bombarded" ministers with his thoughts. He suggested the Act "betrays a fundamental distortion of social and legal thinking".

Lord Falconer was forced to make his statement and publish details of the legal advice he gave to the Queen after critics pointed out that two acts of parliament had been invoked in the past to scupper Princess Margaret marrying Group Captain Peter Townsend, a divorcée, in 1955. The 1836 Marriage Act specifies that civil marriages would not "extend to the marriage of any of the Royal Family." And though the law on civil marriages was repealed in 1949 by another Marriage Act, this stated that "nothing in this Act shall affect any law or custom relating to the marriage of members of the Royal Family." Lawyers said this proved the marriage would be illegal. But Lord Falconer disagreed.

"We are aware that different views have been taken in the past; but we consider that these were over-cautious, and we are clear that the interpretation I have set out in this statement is correct," he said. "We also note that the Human Rights Act has since 2000 required legislation to be interpreted wherever possible in a way that is compatible with the right to marry."