Queen Elizabeth II is exempt from a law protecting cultural artifacts, reveals a report released last night by the Guardian. Police have been barred from searching her private estates for looted or stolen artifacts since 2017, when the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act was signed into law.
Though the legislation primarily concerns the protection of cultural heritage during wartime, it also made the buying and selling of looted items a criminal offense punishable by up to seven years in prison. It likewise gave police the power to search areas where they suspect such artifacts may be held. In a letter to Buckingham Palace in February 2016, an official for the former culture secretary John Whittingdale said the law contained “measures that established new powers of entry upon land and thereby affects the interests of the crown.”
“We wish to ensure that the powers of part four of the bill are not exercisable in relation to Her Majesty’s private estates,” the official wrote.
The immunity was granted by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Documents obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act suggest the department concealed the reasons for the exemption from the public by deliberately using obscure language. However, the DCMS denied the claims and said it is “common for legislation to include an exception for Her Majesty the Queen in her private capacity.”
The fact that this privilege is typical is precisely what has spurred criticism. The Guardian submitted the FOIA request as part of its ongoing investigation into “Queen’s consent,” a parliamentary mechanism dating back to the 1700s, but still widely used, that grants the monarch the right to screen draft legislation that might affect the crown.
“The royal household can be consulted on bills in order to ensure the technical accuracy and consistency of the application of the bill to the crown, a complex legal principle governed by statute and common law,” a palace spokesperson told the newspaper. “This process does not change the nature of any such bill.”
The disclosure comes at a tumultuous time for the royal family, embroiled in controversy since an Oprah interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry exposed systemic racism in an institution many see as increasingly outdated. Calls to dismantle the monarchic system are growing louder, and over 60,000 people have signed a petition demanding investigations into the ability of the Queen — an unelected individual — to influence lawmaking.
A spokesperson for the Queen dismissed suggestions that there might be looted goods on her properties, the Guardian said.