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New Zealand passes royal succession law

Hon Judith Collins

Minister of Justice

11 December 2013
Media Statement

New Zealand passes royal succession law

A Bill modernising rules around Royal succession to the throne has passed its third and final reading in Parliament today.

The Royal Succession Bill puts in place changes that were agreed in 2011 by the 16 Realms who share the Queen as Head of State. All Realms, including New Zealand, must have the same succession laws.

“These changes are positive for New Zealand’s system of government. This Bill improves and modernises the rules of succession and helps ensure the monarchy remains relevant to our modern society,” Ms Collins says. 

The Bill makes three specific changes to the Royal succession rules: 

• the order of succession will no longer be based on gender and will allow an elder daughter to precede a younger son as heir to the throne. This rule will apply to any children in the line of succession born after 28 October 2011, including the recently born Prince George of Cambridge

• a person married to a Roman Catholic will be able to accede to the throne

• seeking the Sovereign’s permission to marry, which currently applies to all members of the royal family, will be limited only to the first six in line to the throne.

The changes will come into force simultaneously with the other Realms at a yet-to-be agreed date.

Q & A

Why is the Bill needed?

The 16 Realms of which Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is Head of State have agreed to change the rules of Royal succession.

The Bill is needed because any changes to United Kingdom laws will not automatically apply to New Zealand. This is a deliberate measure to ensure that United Kingdom amendments do not apply without being accepted by the New Zealand Parliament.

What changes were made at Select Committee?

The Select Committee made one minor technical change to the Bill. The gender-neutral change will apply from 12 noon New Zealand time on 29 October 2011 rather than 1pm. This change takes account of British Summer Time. This change is made at clauses 3(b) and 5(1) of the Bill.

What other Realms have passed the legislation so far?

Not all of the 16 Realms need to enact legislation to change the rules of Royal succession. Of those Realms that are legislating, all have either passed their legislation (such as the United Kingdom and Canada) or are currently in the process of doing so (such as Australia).

What has happened in the UK?

The Succession to the Crown Act was passed by the United Kingdom Parliament in April this year. The New Zealand Bill is consistent with that Act.

Why is the rule that a younger brother precedes an elder sister in the line of succession being changed?

The 16 Realms agree that the rule should be changed. Gender-based rules of succession do not align with modern values, where gender equality is considered an important principle. The rule that enshrines male superiority in the line of succession to the Crown is no longer justified.

Will the gender-neutral change apply to the upcoming child of Zara Tindall (nee Phillips)?

Yes. The new succession rule will apply to anyone born after 28 October 2011, the date which all 16 Realms agreed to the new rules.

Why is the change being backdated?

It is appropriate that the change applies to anyone born after the date the agreement was made. Backdating the change will also streamline the implementation of the new rules. 2

Why is the gender-neutral change not being backdated to include everyone currently in the line of succession?

It is not considered appropriate to change the position of those currently in the line of succession who were born before the agreement was made. There is a legitimate expectation that the current rules will continue to apply for them.

Why is the rule that a person married to a Catholic cannot succeed to the crown being changed?

Under the current rules, prospective heirs married to Catholics are disqualified from succeeding to the throne. However, there are no provisions barring a person from succeeding to or possessing the Crown if they are married to a person of any other faith, or of no faith at all. This position can no longer be justified.

Do these changes mean we could end up with a Catholic monarch?

No, the changes will not allow a Roman Catholic to accede to the throne. The King or Queen will continue to be the head of the Church of England and swear an oath to uphold the Protestant religion.

Will the new Catholic marriage rule change the line of succession?

This change will apply to all marriages where the person concerned is still alive. This will mean that some people will be reinstated into the line of succession. However, no one with a realistic prospect of succeeding to the Crown will be affected. The first such person, the Earl of St Andrews, would become 33rd in line to the throne.

Why is the rule about seeking the Sovereign’s consent to marry being changed?

The problem with current rule is that applies to all descendants of King George II. This is likely to include many hundreds of people, not all of whom would be aware of the requirement. Under the current rule, a marriage is void if consent is not sought.

The new rule will only apply to the first six in line to the throne - a small discrete group of people who realistically may succeed to the Crown. In the unlikely event that the Sovereign refuses them consent to marry, the marriage would be valid, but the person concerned will lose their place in the line of succession.

What issues are there with the international co-ordination process?

It is important that the changes are implemented in a co-ordinated manner so the different Realms have the same succession laws. New Zealand’s Clerk of the Executive Council is undertaking this role on behalf of the Realms.

Regardless of when the Bill is passed, it will be brought into force at a later date. This will be done via an Order in Council, to allow for simultaneous implementation with the other Realms. It is expected this will occur in 2015.

What about the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau?

The Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau form part of the Realm of New Zealand and share the Sovereign in right of New Zealand as Head of State. They do not need to pass legislation as New Zealand law changes will flow through to them.


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