zev, there was a discussion that touched on this point a while ago: Can the King of England abolish the monarchy?
Akatsukami took the position that the monarch can’t abdicate unilaterally; I expressed some doubts.
I checked the site you linked to. I think that the paragraph blurs two imporatant concepts: succession to the throne, and the ability to leave the throne voluntarily. There is no doubt that succession is automatic - as a matter of law, it goes to the surviving hereditary successor of Electress Sophia, pursuant to the Act of Settlement. However, stating that the succcession is automatic does not answer the second question: can the monarch abdicate voluntarily, upon succession or afterwards?
There is no doubt that Edward VIII abdicated by means of consenting to His Majesty’s Declaration of Abdication Act, which gave legal effect to his expressed intention to abdicate. However, that still leaves a question: just because Edward VIII chose to follow that route, does that mean that there is no other legally effective way for the monarch to abdicate? After all, as the site you linked to indicated, Edward was a good constitutional monarch, who wanted to get off the throne with as little disruption to the constitution as possible. As well, the Act made consequential amendments to the law in other areas, such as the Royal Marriages Act and clarifying that Edward’s issue, if any, would not be in the line of succession, as well as indicating that the change of succession had the consent of the other Commonwealth monarchies, as required by the Statute of Westminster. The need for clarifying these legal points could be an equally valid explanation why Edward and Parliament took the approach they did.
It’s useful to look at the other example of an abdication, the “deemed” abdication of James II/VII, in 1688-89. James fled the country after William of Orange landed. Subsequently, the Convention Parliament deemed James to have abdicated, by fleeing the country and refusing to exercise his royal duties: Bill of Rights. That Parliament then offered the throne to William and Mary, who became joint monarchs.
There is a conceptual difficulty here: the Convention Parliament was not summoned by James II, since he was out of the country. So where did it get its authority? The Bill of Rights adopted Locke’s political theory of the compact between the people and the sovereign. Since James had abandoned his duties, he had broken the compact, and the people’s representatives were free to seek a new monarch, which they found in the persons of William and Mary. After Parliament offered the throne to William and Mary, and they accepted, the monarchs then gave royal assent to the Bill of Rights.
The change in the succession here only makes sense if you accept that James II, by refusing to fulfill his duties, had effectively abdicated, even if he had not intended that result. Parliament simply recognized the abdication after the fact. Unlike Edward VIII, who consented to the Abdication Act, James II never gave royal assent to a bill stripping him of his throne. And the Bill of Rights only makes sense if the throne was already vacant, as the Bill itself declares. And since the two Houses of Parliament do not have any law-making authority without the assent of the Crown (Parliament is composed of the Commons, Lords, and the Crown), the only conclusion, in law, is that James ceased to be king by his own actions. (Note: you may well reach a different analysis of the Convention Parliament’s politicalauthority, as a matter of *realpolitick,*but I’m speaking of the legal analysis.)
In summary, if the throne was vacant, as the Bill of Rights declares, it was because of James’s own actions. If so, why cannot a monarch voluntarily abdicate?
With respect to Yankee Blue’s suggestion of a regency, that would only provide an interim relief. Under the *Regency Act 1937,*a regent can be appointed when the monarch is under 18, or mentally or physically incapacitated, or for some definite cause not available for the performance of the royal duties. Assuming a refusal to act comes within the latter category, a regent could be appointed. The regent is normally the person next in line to the throne.
However, there is a significant limitation on the powers of the regent: a regent cannot give royal assent to a bill changing the royal succession: *Regency Act 1937,*s. 4. So if Charles, for instance, upon succession refuses to exercise his duties because he wants to abdicate and marry Camilla, Prince William could be named Regent. However, Prince William could not give his assent to the “Abidication of Charles Act” - only Charles could do so. If Charles refused, saying that he had already abdicated and was no longer king, it seems to me that Parliament would have two choices: a) wait for Charles to die, and keep William as Regent until then; b) follow the precedent of the Convention Parliament, and declare that Charles had abdicated the throne, and offer it to William. However, the latter approach only makes sense if Charles has the power to abdicate the throne without the consent of Parliament.
I appreciate that this is a murky area, and would certainly welcome hearing from anyone else who may have some thoughts on it, like APB or *Akatsukami.c