On the Naughty Step

4 Oct

The Daily Mail spends so much time on the Human Rights Blog‘s ‘naughty step’ that they’re unlikely to be especially worried by this blog putting them there too – especially when their reporting of this matter is in fact an improvement on that of (say) The Metro. (To be fair, the Metro piece was much shorter)

The Daily Mail splash:

Revealed: How Prince Charles receives £1m from the estates of subjects who die without wills thanks to a medieval law

The Duchy of Cornwall – Prince Charles is Duke of Cornwall – publishes annual accounts, and this is presumably the best that the Press can do. Let’s start somewhere …

(1) Magna Carta is medieval. The Daily Mail is not known to be calling for its repeal. So all that is really being said is that a law … (etc) – which is surely better than Prince Charles riding up like a medieval robber baron and plundering Cornwall for booty ?

(2) Intestacy (dying without a Will) has nothing to do with it. If you die without a Will, then various Acts of Parliament, following ancient (er, medieval ?) common law rules, lay down the way and order in which your property passes to your relatives;

(3) The issue is bona vacantia – literally ’empty goods’ – ie unowned. Under the common law, property – literally – has to belong to someone, and so when property runs out of owners something has to happen;

(4) Since in the UK all land is held of the Crown (Unit 1 Land Law), then logically enough unowned goods revert to the Crown. This does NOT mean that HMQ spends them on food for her corgis, any more than David Cameron can sell 10 Downing Street. In effect, the bona become property of the state – it just so happens in the UK that the state (as in criminal prosecutions) is personified (‘objectified’ ?) as ‘the Crown;’

(5) Because the Duchy of Cornwall was set up to provide the Prince of Wales (a very long time ago) with an income, then the income from the Duchy does in principle go to Prince Charles – which their official website says he shares around their family. This admittedly does seem to be usable for private purposes – although how exactly one would distinguish between private and public in that role is not wholly clear;

(6) But that does NOT apply to bona vacantia in the Duchy. As the Duchy website explains, it is treated like bona vacantia in the rest of the UK in being given to charitable or benevolent causes (and for a deceased estate to any who might have expected to inherit but for the intestacy rules) – the difference being merely that it is done on behalf of Prince Charles as Duke rather than HMQ as representing the Crown;

So – nothing shocking here, no story, time to move on. Yawn …

(In the interests of balance, you can read about the pressure group Republic here, and an Observer article comparing them to spiritualists and Liberal Democrats here)


2 Responses to “On the Naughty Step”

  1. Mr Cartwright (@kaplan_nc) October 7, 2012 at 7:45 am #

    Interesting b log – as usual, thanks.

    I wonder who the Daily Mail think the property should go to? If there is no will and no living heirs surely the State is the obvious answer, to be used for the benefit of all.

    As a Republican I’m a little bemused that you feel I’ve forsaken common sense and would side with the Daily Mail!

    • Richard Heald October 9, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

      Thanks very much for your kind words, Nick as ever – I always look out for the latest on your blog too.

      I was certainly surprised to see the Daily Mail lining up with various republicans – an unusual coalition, for sure. Thus the post.

      I am not sure that it is obvious that unowned property goes to the State as such – that may assume the people come from the State rather than vice versa? What seems actually to happen is that the bona vacantia money gets spend more-or-less charitably – if not quite “for the benefit of all” (we probably differ about the natural efficacy of Government spending) then ‘for the benefit of the needy,’ which seems to me at least as reasonable.

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