British Prime Minister David Cameron set in motion a change to the 300 year-old rules governing heirs to the throne by proposing a bill (hereinafter the Royal Bill) to modify the Royal line of Succession. The modification would eliminate the preference for men over women as heirs to the throne. As the rule currently exists, a female heir may only take the throne if she does not have any brothers – older or younger. However, in October 2011 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, all 16 countries agreed to modify the centuries-old succession rules.

While all 16 Commonwealth countries have provided written agreements to modernize the rules, each country is still subject to its own legislative procedures. However, this has presented some legal issues for passage in the Canadian Commonwealth. Under Canadian jurisprudence, as quoted by CBC News, the 1701 Act of Settlement is “part of the laws of Canada” and the rules of succession are “by [necessity] incorporated into the Constitution of Canada.” The Canadian Constitution requires that an amendment regarding “the office of the Queen” can only be made when the House, the Senate, and the legislative assembly of each province agree.

This constitutional provision raises several interesting questions.  Does this bill concern the office of the Queen? Or is it just concerning the succession to the throne? One argument proposed by Saskatchewan, as reported by CBC News, claims the Canadian Constitution is only defining the monarch as the monarch of England – whoever that may be. Under this view, the only change that would require unanimous provincial support would be changing this definition. On the other hand, some argue that if the provinces allow the government to “overlook their constitutional right to weigh in on this matter” they may be fundamentally limiting their constitutional right to weigh in on future issues. Any attempt to amend the rules of succession without provincial support may prompt a judicial challenge to the limits of the young Canadian Constitution (patriated in 1982).

However, any delay in passage by one or more Commonwealth Countries will not delay the effective date of the bill.  Any change to the rules of succession will apply to any baby born after the October 11, 2011 agreement. Once passed, the effects of the Royal Bill will be imposed on the unborn child of Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. As a result, if William and Kate have a little girl, their daughter cannot subsequently be bypassed in line as heir to throne if they later have a son.