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The Application of International Human Rights Law to the British Royal Family

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.


By Doga Fadillioglu




Regardless of nationality or social status, it can safely be concluded that there is an unquestionable appreciation for the British Royal Family; if not an appreciation, an opinion or knowledge of existence. As such, one can’t help but wonder: what is it like to be ‘royal’.


Before we consider the application of International Human Rights Law to the Royal Family, we must mention that although the UK follows a dualist system, a couple of conventions (namely the European Convention on Human Rights[1] through the Human Rights Act 1998[2]) have a binding effect on the UK constitution.[3]


Being a member of the Royal Family has its advantages and disadvantages. In both cases, internationally accepted human rights are being infringed upon and disregarded. Whilst one may consider international human rights as being a medium providing meaning to the minimum standard of living, even those of Royal blood suffer from infringement of these basic rights. One of the more striking cases includes the withdrawal of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex as senior members of the Royal Family, as well as their request for termination of affiliation with the Royal Rota (access of exclusive inside to ongoings of the Royal Family for certain media outlets[4]). This action was met with an immense amount of scrutiny by the British media – resulting in multiple accounts of privacy invasion and racial discrimination towards the Duchess.


The decision made by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to step down form the Royal Rota inspired outrage amongst media outlets. Presumably, the source of this rage is one of frustration due to a cut of invaluable inside to the couple. This can be compared to when the outlets of the Royal Rota were denied speaking on Prince William’s cheating rumours as well as being banned from using photos of the Duchess of Cambridge - the media was much more ‘understanding’. When denied access to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle however, articles surfaced tearing down the Duchess as a woman, an African American, and a mother.[5] In addition to this, both Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, as well as their then 14-month-old child were photographed inside their home in the United States. These photos were then sold to British media outlets.[6] Pursuant to Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), their “right to respect for family life”[7] was breached. Furthermore, as per Article 1 ECHR, regarding the “general prohibition of discrimination”[8], it can also be concluded that this right, in the face of racially discriminatory articles written about the Duchess, was breached. This is an interesting social dilemma – Meghan Markle, the first black royal known to date, seems to present the Royal family with ‘unknown’ after centuries of tradition and stability.


Whilst being Royal comes with certain repercussions, it can also be argued that the Royal family itself equally disregards these rights. The term “no one is above the law”[9] becomes a topic of dispute when the advantages of being The Queen of the United Kingdom are analyzed. Indeed, the Family is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act 2000[10], The Queen does not need a passport to travel nor a driver’s license to drive[11], and most importantly (as stated by the official Royal website), “civil and criminal proceedings cannot be taken against the Sovereign as a person under UK law”[12]. All the above seem to be in breach of both Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[13] which dictates “Equality Before the Law”, as well as the general principle of “no one is above the law”.


Hence, whilst being a public spectacle puts the Royal Family at a vulnerable position with regards to media scrutiny and invasion of rights, at the same time, their status allows them to disregard these same rights. Essentially, the fact that the Royal Family - undemocratically assigned figures - have the power to curtail certain rights encourages one to question the extent to which democracy is being practised where the Monarchy is perhaps placed above it. All in all, one can say that there is an issue with the application of International Human Rights with regards to the Royal Family.





 

Sources [1] “European Convention on Human Rights” <https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf> [2] “Human Rights Act 1998” (Legislation.gov.uk, 2011) <https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/42/contents> accessed November 26, 2020 [3] Donald A, Gordon J and Leach P, “Equality and Human Rights Commission Research Report 83 The UK and the European Court of Human Rights” (2012) <https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/83._european_court_of_human_rights.pdf> [4] “Media | The Official Website of The Duke & Duchess of Sussex” (The Official Website of The Duke & Duchess of Sussex, January 13, 2020) <https://sussexroyal.com/media/> accessed November 26, 2020 [5] “Meghan Markle Is a Victim of Racism, Sexism and Misogyny, Says John Bercow” The Independent (February 2, 2020) <https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/royal-family/meghan-markle-john-bercow-racism-sexism-misogyny-sunday-times-magazine-a9313356.html> accessed November 26, 2020 [6] Dasrath D and Doha Madani, “Prince Harry and Meghan Sue Unnamed Paparazzi for Invasion of Privacy in California” (NBC News, July 24, 2020) <https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/prince-harry-meghan-sue-unnamed-paparazzi-invasion-privacy-california-n1234772> accessed November 26, 2020 [7] “European Convention on Human Rights” <https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf> [8] ibid. [9] Thompson H, “No One Is above the Law—the Importance of Advancing the Rule of Law” (@lexisnexis, August 19, 2020) <https://www.lexisnexis.co.uk/blog/future-of-law/no-one-is-above-the-law-the-importance-of-advancing-the-rule-of-law> accessed November 26, 2020 [10] “Freedom of Information Act 2000” (Legislation.gov.uk, 2020) <https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/36/contents> accessed November 26, 2020 [11] Christine-Marie Liwag Dixon, “Laws The Royal Family Doesn’t Have To Follow” (TheList.com, December 28, 2018) <https://www.thelist.com/141536/laws-the-royal-family-doesnt-have-to-follow/#:~:text=While%20the%20royal%20family%20is,t%20be%20much%20that%20anyone> accessed November 26, 2020 [12] Kirsty.Oram, “The Queen and Law” (The Royal Family, February 29, 2016) <https://www.royal.uk/queen-and-law> accessed November 26, 2020 [13] “OHCHR | Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: 30 Articles on 30 Articles - Article 7” (Ohchr.org, 2019) <https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23885&LangID=E#:~:text=Article%207%20says%20the%20law,form%20the%20rule%20of%20law.> accessed November 26, 2020

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