9

An issue that somehow got lost in the recent Meghan and Harry allegations is the claim that Meghan had to give up her driver's license and keys. The only reference to legality of this action I found was this article in which several Royal family experts express doubt that The Crown would actually deny her the possessions. However could the Queen act in this manner since she isn't legally accountable?

10
  • 16
    It sounds like "had to" is in the sense of "if you go out driving by yourself then we won't provide you with the security that royals otherwise get, and we might deny you other sorts of royal privileges as well". That's not the same as actually refusing to give them back. Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 0:00
  • 6
    But you're asking hypothetically, what if the Queen actually said "no, you cannot have them back, period", and when Meghan attempted some legal process to recover them, said "the courts have no power over Me, they are My courts"? That would get into the distinction between the theoretical and practical powers of the Queen. Much as if she refused Royal Assent to some Act of Parliament: in theory she can, but it's understood that if she actually did so, there'd be a constitutional crisis and the nation would rapidly decide that they don't want to be a monarchy anymore. Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 0:04
  • 2
    More we will not give you any security and tell the press whenever you leave.... Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 10:20
  • 7
    Remember in the UK there is no level requirement to take your driver's license when you are driving a car. Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 10:23
  • 5
    @NateEldredge shouldn't that be "the courts have no power over us, they are our courts"?
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 12:28

4 Answers 4

14

She never said that

She said:

When I joined that family, that was the last time, until we came here, that I saw my passport, my driver's licence, my keys. All that gets turned over

With respect to my adult children and their passports, the same is true in my house. I ask them for their passports when they aren’t needed, they give them to me, I store them in a safe place and I give them back to them when they need them. That’s just a sensible precaution against them being lost and in no way illegal.

Now if I took their passports without permission and withheld them when they wanted them, that would be illegal as it would for anyone else including the Queen (who, I’m sure, had absolutely nothing to do with it - that’s the job of the Keeper of the Royal Passports or some such).

Similarly, if you came to my house and I offered to take your coat and you gave it to me and I gave it back when you left, that would be perfectly legal.

When I pull up in my car, I put my keys in a bowl in the laundry (unless I forget and then I can’t find them and it’s really annoying). I would prefer instead to have an employee jump into the car, park it and put the keys in their bowl so that when I want the car latter, it’s their job to remember where they left the keys. But I can’t afford that.

7
  • 19
    There are of course degrees of pressure in between. You could say "Please put your coat here, and if you ask for it back I'll give it to you, but if you do then I'll never speak to you again and I'll cut you out of my will and say nasty things about you to all my friends". That wouldn't be illegal either, but it may be closer to what OP has in mind. Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 23:40
  • 10
    The funny thing is that people who do bad things often insist that they were willing, happy even!, to do good things, if only someone had just asked....while simultaneously making it very difficult for people to ask. Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 14:54
  • 7
    ... you ask for your adult children's passports? How often are they bringing them around? Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 17:06
  • 1
    "who, I’m sure, had absolutely nothing to do with it - that’s the job of the Keeper of the Royal Passports or some such" IIRC the Queen doesn't have a passport? She is the Crown, after all. Not sure if the other members of the Royal Family are similarly exempt from those sorts of regulations.
    – nick012000
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 1:26
  • 2
    @nick012000: The specific exception for the Queen is because formally, the passport is a request by the Queen to other countries to permit access for one of her subjects. The other members of the Royal Family are still her subjects.
    – MSalters
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 11:50
14

The reigning monarch has significantly more authority over members of the royal family, at least those members in a reasonably foreseeable line of succession, than ordinary parents have over their children. The most intrusive of these is the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, although that was toned down in 2015:

The Royal Marriages Act 1772 was an act of the Parliament of Great Britain which prescribed the conditions under which members of the British royal family could contract a valid marriage, in order to guard against marriages that could diminish the status of the royal house. The right of veto vested in the sovereign by this act provoked severe adverse criticism at the time of its passage.

It was repealed as a result of the 2011 Perth Agreement, which came into force on 26 March 2015. Under the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, the first six people in the line of succession need permission to marry if they and their descendants are to remain in the line of succession.

Particularly at the level of royalty in the British Commonwealth, the line between reliably honored custom and binding law gets very fuzzy.

The expectations of titled aristocrats in the British system, let alone members of the Royal family or senior members of the Royal family, that are normally described in the nature of rules of etiquette are very prescriptive and restrictive.

I suspect that some of the tensions and frustration of the situation have arisen from a failure of the royal family (with Harry, of course, being most responsible as her husband, but perhaps least qualified to do so having never known anything else) to effectively communicate the realities of life in the royal family. It is one thing to jump to the bottom line realities of royal life, and quite another to provide context for the unfamiliar practices of royal life (which she surely encountered even if the media has gotten some specific details wrong) in a way that makes sense to Meghan and in a way that shows her respect for her individual autonomy and intelligence. The wife of someone sixth in the line of succession to the throne in a love match made by someone in their 30s who grew up in the U.S., has different expectations and different "common sense" instincts about who life works, than a princess from a more typical background for a royal bride. Practices that seem like common sense for someone who has lived in and around high aristocracy all of their lives and/or married without ever having had much experience as an autonomous non-aristocratic adult could come across as very threatening if not understood in the way they are understood by people familiar with that life. Many ordinary people have a hard time getting used to taking the role of a beneficiary of a substantial trust fund, and this rises to a whole new level of unfamiliar.

From time to time, some individual holding a hereditary title in this system, or marrying into the family, is sufficiently a "force of nature" to defy these rules, either with etiquette styled consequences (e.g. not being invited to a formal occasion where it would be customary to do so), or with impunity. Other times, the consequences for breaching these norms are more grave (e.g. requiring that someone abdicate a place in the line of succession).

One would have to be closer to situation than an American like me who pays passing attention to it, to realistically judge what kind of consequence is likely to flow from what kind of disregard for norms and customs and expectations of the reigning monarch. Enforcement would be a delicate matter akin to high level international diplomatic negotiations, if it is to be done in a manner that avoids a constitutional crisis.

7
  • 5
    The fuzziness between law and custom is due to the fact that the legal system in GB "combines the passing of legislation but also the creation of precedents through case law" (ox.libguides.com/c.php?g=422832&p=2887374); in other words, the combination of "reliably honored custom and binding law" is part of the design. And then both the monarch and the Prime Minister are part of the legislative (!). Last not least, there is no constitution. The whole law system is by design devoid of foundational, "eternal" standards. Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 15:28
  • 1
    @Peter-ReinstateMonica There is a constitution. It’s not codified or entrenched, so it doesn’t look like a constitution to people from countries whose constitutions do have those features.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 13:31
  • @MikeScott also it wasn't formed by the people constituting themselves into a society, so is it really a constitution?
    – Graham Lee
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 14:03
  • @MikeScott Ah, I see. I have people come out of a meeting about simpler topics with completely opposite ideas of what was agreed upon. Meeting minutes really help to align opinions ;-). Case in point: "Other core principles of the British Constitution are often thought to include ..." LOL: read no futher. Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 14:41
  • 2
    Nitpick: Harry is 6th in line to the throne, not 3rd (he was 3rd at birth but his older brother's children have precedence over him)
    – llama
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 15:23
4

However could the Queen act in this manner since she isn't legally accountable?

In theory yes, but a swift plausibility check shows that this is unlikely the case since there are many reports that senior Royals (other than the Queen) do (or had) drivers licenses.

However, the assumption that because the Queen does not require a driver's Licence or a Passport does not lead to the conclusion that she is allowed to take them away from others. Which means anyone doing so on her behalf, would be accountable by the law.

Double checking facts should be the standard procedure, not only in law and history, but also in Journalism.

That this was not done in this case (either by the original report or those repeating the original) seems apparent, since a simple Google search result swiftly leads to doubts about the truthfulness of such a claim.


2019-02-09: Prince Philip, 97, gives up driving licence - BBC News
The Duke of Edinburgh is to voluntarily give up his driving licence, Buckingham Palace has said.

It comes after the 97-year-old duke apologised over a car crash near the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, in which his Land Rover Freelander landed on its side after a collision with a Kia.

Two days later Norfolk Police gave him "suitable words of advice" after he was pictured driving without a seat belt.

Buckingham Palace said that he surrendered his licence on Saturday.
...
In 2016, the duke famously drove the Obamas when the then US president and First Lady visited Windsor.

2019-10-29: Express.co.uk
Royal news: The surprising achievement Prince Harry and Prince William both share
THE QUEEN is the only person in the UK who is permitted to drive without a licence, which means the rest of the royal family has been required to undertake the nerve-racking experience of a driving test like most other British 17-year-olds.

The Queen is entitled to certain benefits when it comes to cars and driving. But these do not extend to her family. One key exemption is that the Queen is not required to hold a driving licence to drive, but everyone else in her family is. But why is driving so important to Prince Harry and Prince William?

The royal prince had taken around 20 lessons and passed the test on the first time.

The successful test occurred just 24 hours after a photocall in which he displayed his driving skills.
...
The teenage prince had applied for the practical driving test after he sat his theory examination just one day after his birthday.

The young prince was then able to drive a VW Golf which had been gifted to him as a birthday present from Prince Charles. ...
William’s younger brother Harry also passed his test on the first time.

It is understood that the 17-year-old also had around 20 lessons, but unlike his eager brother, he took 15 weeks to pass his test on New Year’s Eve in 2001.
...
For the royals, driving is seen as a means by which they can add a little normalcy into their lives.

Prince Harry was even seen trying to teach his then-fiancee Meghan Markle how to drive a manual car on the left-hand side of the road, seeing as she was accustomed to driving automatic cars on the right.


Royal news:
Prince Harry taught his fiancee Meghan how to drive in the UK
(Image: GETTY)

Sources:

13
  • 9
    Having physical possession of her driving licence isn't necessary to be allowed to drive - the only legal requirement is that you can produce it at a police station within a week if required to do so by a police officer. Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 10:43
  • 1
    I think what she was saying was that the way of living was that someone else does all of that kind of basic life admin (e.g. opening the door to your own house, looking after driving licenses, passports etc) for you. Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 13:56
  • 1
    @MarkJohnson And I don't think it's that naive, really, considering that literally only a handful of (independent adults) in the US and Britain have that level of security semi-imposed on them. For everyone else, "Has your passport been taking away from you?" is directly on the list of questions to identify victims of human trafficking. Since Meghan was mid-30s when she married Harry, she'd had a pretty long time to get used to being independent. Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 15:01
  • 1
    @MarkJohnson Is Diana Meghan? I don't see how Diana driving a car is relevant to Meghan driving, any more than me driving a car is. If everyone is allowed to drive except for you, then that's obviously not fair to you. Also, it's not clear that much of anything is illegal for the Queen, as she has sovereign immunity. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sovereign_immunity#United_Kingdom Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 16:08
  • 1
    @user3067860 The days since someone is thrown into the tower for saying no to the monarch are over. In otherwords, when anybody (whether that person can be prosecuted or not) attempts an illegal activity, all you need to do is say no without fear of legal repercussions. (Please remember this is a law site) Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 16:29
3

We're reading too much into Meghan's rather rambling discourse on what she likes to present as a loss of empowerment. Members of the Royal family can and do drive themselves. They probably don't carry house keys to the various residences, there is always staff to open the door for them. (I doubt POTUS has a key to the White House.)

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .