Charles's civil ceremony may not be legal

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The Independent Online

The wedding of the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles has sparked a debate among constitutional experts over whether it is legal for a member of the Royal Family to marry in a civil ceremony.

The wedding of the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles has sparked a debate among constitutional experts over whether it is legal for a member of the Royal Family to marry in a civil ceremony.

Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, insists that it is, because a 19th century law banning civil ceremonies for royals nuptials was superseded by an Act passed by the Labour Government in 1949. Other experts disagree, which could force the Government to rush legislation through to allow the marriage to go ahead, as planned, at Windsor Guildhall on 8 April.

The argument hinges on Section 45 of the 1836 Marriage Act, which specified that nothing in the Act "shall extend to the marriage of any of the Royal Family".

Lord Falconer is confident, however, that the 1949 Act, which updated the law on civil marriages, ended the bar on the Royal Family. He told the Mail on Sunday: "The language of the 1949 Act is clearly intended to allow Royals to take part in civil weddings.

"Unlike the 1836 Act, the 1949 Act does not say Royals cannot marry in a civil ceremony. In 1949, Parliament clearly intended that members of the Royal family could, if they wished, get married in a civil ceremony."

But others have pointed to a provision of the 1949 Act which says that nothing in it should affect "any law or custom relating to the marriage of members of the Royal Family."

When Princess Margaret wanted to marry a divorced commoner, Group Captain Peter Townsend, 50 years ago, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Kilmuir, advised the Prime Minister that: "Marriages of members of the Royal Family are not in the same position as marriages of other persons. The statutory facilities for civil marriages are not available in England, but are available in Scotland."

Dr Stephen Cretney, emeritus fellow of legal history at Oxford University, said the Prime Minister should issue a "full and proper" statement about the situation. "To put it mildly, the fiasco of the town hall wedding puts in question the competence of some of those on whom the Royal Family, the Government and others relied."

The couple were forced to move the wedding from Windsor Castle, because The Queen would had to have made itavailable for other couples planning civil marriages.

It is also rumoured that the Queen has insisted that Charles cut the guest list for his wedding party. She is also reported to have said that she does not want to meet Mrs Parker Bowles before the wedding, and has insisted that the reception is over at six o'clock "at the latest".

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