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This briefing paper explains what arrangements can be put in place if a monarch is unable to perform their Royal functions.

The relevant legislation, the Regency Acts 1937 to 1953, deal with four potential scenarios:

  • A monarch succeeding to the Throne before the age of 18
  • A monarch becoming permanently incapacitated
  • A monarch becoming temporarily incapacitated
  • The absence of a monarch from the United Kingdom

For the first two scenarios, the 1937 Act made provision for the next in line to the Throne (assuming they were 18) being made Regent. And for the second two, the appointment of Counsellors of State to act on the monarch’s behalf.

Regency

In a Regency, a “Regent” is appointed to act on the monarch’s behalf.

A Regency applies if a monarch succeeds to the Throne before the age of 18, or if a monarch becomes permanently incapacitated due to “infirmity of mind or body”.

If a monarch becomes permanently incapacitated, the Regent assumes most of the monarch’s “Royal functions”, except granting Royal Assent to a Bill which alters the line of succession or the Scottish system of Presbyterian church government.

The Regent is the heir to the Throne unless they have not reached the age of 18. In such a case, the Regent is the next in the line of succession who has reached the age of 21.

Counsellors of State

In the case of temporary incapacity or absence from the UK, then the monarch can appoint “Counsellors of State” via Letters Patent.

These are all members of the Royal Family who have reached the age of 21 (except the heir to the Throne, who only needs to be 18). Two or more can carry out most Royal functions. They cannot, however, create peers or dissolve Parliament without the express permission of the monarch.

A Regency has not been required in the UK in more than 200 years. Counsellors of State, however, have often carried out Royal functions. In February 1974, for example, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret declared a state of emergency and dissolved Parliament.


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