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21 May 2003

Challenging monarchy

American readers, and some British readers, may find this hard to believe, but it is a crime punishable by life imprisonment to advocate in print the abolition of the British monarchy, even by peaceful democratic means. The Guardian newspaper is attempting to challenge that law, but without actually risking anyone going to prison, by asking for a court declaration that the law is incompatible with the EU guarantee of the right of free speech. The court refused to hear the case, claiming that "a ruling in favour of the Guardian would open the civil courts to being asked to give advice on whether or not an action would be a criminal offence". What rubbish! We can't allow you to have basic human rights, or everyone would want them. And what is worse, people in this country have nothing better to do than waste the courts' time coming up with frivolous questions, at the costs of thousands of pounds. (Lawyers may find this hard to believe, but most people dread going to court and will in consequence put up with all kinds of crap before they go see a lawyer to try to find relief.)

The chronology is as follows: 1) Guardian asked Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, for the court declaration, 2) Goldsmith refused to rule on the question, 3) three appeals court judges overturned his refusal to rule and sent it back to him, and 4) Goldsmith is now appealing that ruling at the house of Lords, the final appeal. OK, the way I look at it is this: people in these circles are very motivated by a desire for the rewards that are found only in a system with a monarch at the top and a vast pecking order of nobles, knighthoods, QCs and other titles. How is it going to look on their CVs if they were instrumental in throwing open the door to a peaceful challenge to the monarchy itself, upon which the whole house of cards rests? Or worse still, what if someone is steadily advancing his or her career toward the expected knighthood, and then the monarchy is actually abolished just as they come within sight of their goal? And somehow, I don't expect the House of Lords to be the most sympathetic venue to hear this appeal. But then again, maybe they will surprise me. After all, there are a lot of Labour-appointed Life Peers in there now, and they have already got their rewards.

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