The monarch of Belize is the head of state of Belize. The incumbent is Queen Elizabeth II, officially called Queen of Belize, who has reigned since 21 September 1981. The heir apparent is Elizabeth's eldest son, Prince Charles, though the Queen is the only member of the royal family with any constitutional role. She, her husband and consort, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles, and other members of the royal family, including the Queen's other children and cousins, undertake various public ceremonial functions across Belize and on behalf of Belize abroad.
The Belizean monarch, besides reigning in Belize, separately serves as head of state for each of fifteen other Commonwealth countries. This developed from the former colonial relationship of these countries to Britain, but they are now independent and the monarchy of each is legally distinct.
Throughout the 19th century, colonial settlement increased, and Belize was made the Crown colony of British Honduras by Queen Victoria in 1871. The country was granted its independence from the United Kingdom by Queen Elizabeth II in 1981 to form Belize as a kingdom in its own right.
Sixteen states within the 52-member Commonwealth of Nations are known as Commonwealth realms and Belize is one of these. Despite sharing the same person as their respective national monarch, each of the Commonwealth realms is sovereign and independent of the others.
The Balfour Declaration of 1926 provided the Dominions the right to be considered equal to Britain, rather than subordinate; an agreement that had the result of a shared Crown that operates independently in each realm rather than a unitary British Crown under which all the Dominions were secondary. The monarchy thus ceased to be an exclusively British institution, although it has often been called "British" since this time (in both legal and common language) for reasons historical, political, and of convenience. The Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927 was the first indication of this shift in law, further elaborated in the Statute of Westminster 1931.
Though constitutional laws governing the line of succession to the Belizean throne lie within the control of the Belizean parliament, via adopting the Statute of Westminster, Belize agreed not to change its rules of succession without the unanimous consent of the other realms, unless explicitly leaving the shared monarchy relationship. This situation applies symmetrically in all the other realms, including the United Kingdom, a situation that has been likened to a treaty amongst these countries.
On all matters of the Belizean state, the monarch is advised solely by Belizean Ministers of the Crown. Effective with the Belize Act 1981, no British or other realm government can advise the monarch on any matters pertinent to Belize.
In Belize, the Queen's official title is:
This style communicates Belize's status as an independent monarchy, highlighting the sovereign's role specifically as Queen of Belize, as well as the shared aspect of the Crown throughout the realms, by mentioning Belize separately from the other countries. Typically, the sovereign is styled "Queen of Belize," and is addressed as such when in Belize, or performing duties on behalf of Belize abroad.
The heir apparent is Elizabeth II's eldest son, Charles, Prince of Wales. Upon the demise of the Crown, the Executive Council of Belize is expected to proclaim him King of Belize upon his accession to the throne.
Succession to the throne is by male-preference primogeniture, and governed by the provisions of the Act of Settlement, 1701, as well as the English Bill of Rights, 1689. The Act of Settlement restricts the succession to the natural (i.e. biological), legitimate descendants of Sophia, Electress of Hanover (1630–1714), a granddaughter of James I, and lays out the rules that the monarch cannot be a Roman Catholic, nor married to one, and must be in communion with the Church of England upon ascending the throne.
These documents are part of British constitutional law to which Belize defers for the line of succession; however, as per the Statute of Westminster, a part of Belizean constitutional law, no act of the British Parliament after 1931 has effect in Belize without the approval of the Belizean government. The Belizean government has signalled its acceptance of the British Succession to the Crown Act 2013, which will alter the line of succession by adopting absolute primogeniture and removing the bar on spouses of Catholics, but the act will not come into effect until the necessary legislative procedures are completed in those Commonwealth realms that legislate independently of British law.
Upon a "demise in the Crown" (the death of a sovereign), his or her heir immediately and automatically succeeds, without any need for confirmation or further ceremony; hence arises the phrase "The king is dead, long live the king!" Nevertheless, it is customary for the accession of the sovereign to be publicly proclaimed by the Governor-General. After an appropriate period of mourning has passed, the sovereign is also crowned in Westminster Abbey, normally by the Archbishop of Canterbury. A coronation is not necessary for a sovereign to reign; for example, Edward VIII was never crowned, yet undoubtedly king during his short reign.
After an individual ascends the throne, he or she continues to reign until death. Monarchs are not allowed to unilaterally abdicate.
Belize's constitution is made up of a variety of statutes and conventions that are either British or Belizean in origin, which gives Belize a similar parliamentary system of government as the other Commonwealth realms. All powers of state are constitutionally reposed in the monarch, who is represented by the Governor General of Belize – appointed by the monarch upon the advice of the Prime Minister of Belize. Most of the Queen's domestic duties are performed by this vice-regal representative.
As all executive authority is vested in the sovereign, the institutions of government are said to act under her authority; hence, the government of Belize is formally referred to as "Her Majesty's Government in Belize," however, since the early 1970s, though the constitutional arrangements have not changed, the government is more often addressed simply as "The Government of Belize."
The Belize Independence Order in Council (1981 No.1107) was made on 31 July 1981, under the Belize Independence Act 1981 which provided for the fully responsible status of Belize and the power to make a new constitution for Belize. To a large extent the new constitution included the institutions and procedures with which Belizeans had been familiar for the past eighteen years of self-government under the constitution of 1963. The Form of Oath of Allegiance and Office prescribed in Schedule 3 is a declaration of allegiance to Belize and to "Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Her Heirs and Successors".
The role of the Queen and the Governor-General is both legal and practical; the Crown is regarded as a corporation, in which several parts share the authority of the whole, with the Queen as the person at the centre of the constitutional construct.
The vast powers that belong to the Crown are collectively known as the Royal Prerogative, which includes many powers, such as the ability to make treaties and send ambassadors, as well as certain duties such as to defend the realm and to maintain the Queen's peace. Parliamentary approval is not required for the exercise of the Royal Prerogative; moreover, the consent of the Crown must be obtained before either of the Houses of Parliament may even debate a bill affecting the sovereign's prerogatives or interests. It is important to note that the Royal Prerogative belongs to the Crown, and not to any of the ministers, though it may sometimes appear that way. Although the Royal Prerogative is extensive, it is not unlimited. For example, the monarch does not have the prerogative to impose and collect new taxes; such an action requires the authorisation of an Act of Parliament.
The Crown is responsible for appointing a prime minister to advise the monarch or Governor-General on how to execute their executive powers. In accordance with unwritten constitutional conventions, the monarch or Governor-General must appoint the individual most likely to maintain the support of the House of Representatives: usually, the leader of the party which has a majority in that house. In a parliament in which no party or coalition holds a majority, the Crown is required, by convention, to appoint the individual most likely to command the support of the House of Representatives, usually, but not necessarily, the leader of the largest party. The Queen is informed by the Governor-General of the acceptance of the resignation of a prime minister and the swearing-in of a new prime minister and members of the ministry.
It is a duty of the Crown to also appoint and dismiss ministers, members of various executive agencies, and other officials. The appointment of Senators, the Speaker of the Senate, and Supreme Court justices also falls under the Royal Prerogative, though these duties are specifically assigned to the Governor-General by the Constitution. Effectively, however, the appointees are chosen by the Prime Minister, or, for less important offices, by other ministers.
In addition, it is the Crown's prerogative to declare war, make peace, and direct the actions of the military, although the Prime Minister holds de facto decision-making power over the armed forces. The Royal Prerogative also extends to foreign affairs: the sovereign or Governor-General may negotiate and ratify treaties, alliances, and international agreements; no parliamentary approval is required. However, a treaty cannot alter the domestic laws of Belize; an Act of Parliament is necessary in such cases. The Governor-General, on behalf of the Queen, also accredits Belizean High Commissioners and ambassadors, and receives diplomats from foreign states. In addition, all Belizean passports are issued in the monarch's name. In Belize, major public inquiries are called Royal Commissions, and are created by the Cabinet, on behalf of the monarch, through a Royal Warrant.
The sovereign is one of the three components of parliament; the others are the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Constitution Act, 1981, also outlines that the Governor-General alone is responsible for summoning the House of Representatives, though it remains the monarch's prerogative to prorogue, and dissolve parliament. The new parliamentary session is marked by the State Opening of Parliament, during which either the monarch of the Governor-General reads the Speech from the Throne in the Senate Chamber, outlining the Government's legislative agenda. A general election follows dissolution, the writs for which are dropped by the Governor-General at Government House.
There are also a few duties which must be specifically performed by, or bills that require assent by the Queen. These include: signing the appointment papers of Governors-General, the confirmation of awards of Belizean honours, and approving any change in her Belizean title.
Because the Belizean monarchy is a constitutional one, the powers that are constitutionally the monarch's are exercised almost wholly upon the advice of his or her Prime Minister and the Ministers of the Crown in Cabinet, who are, in turn, accountable to the democratically elected House of Representatives, and through it, to the people. It has been said since the death of Queen Anne in 1714, the last monarch to head the British cabinet, that the monarch "reigns" but does not "rule". This means that the monarch's role, and thereby the viceroy's role, is almost entirely symbolic and cultural, acting as a symbol of the legal authority under which all governments and agencies operate. In exceptional circumstances, however, the monarch or viceroy can act against such advice based upon his or her reserve powers.
All laws in Belize are enacted with the sovereign's, or the viceroy's signature. Thus, all federal bills begin with the phrase "Now, therefore, Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Representatives of Belize, enacts as follows." The granting of a signature to a bill is known as Royal Assent; it, and proclamation, are required for all acts of parliament, usually granted or withheld by the Governor-General, with the Great Seal of Belize. The Governor-General may reserve a bill for the monarch's pleasure, that is to say, allow the monarch to make a personal decision on the bill.
The sovereign is deemed the "fount of justice," and is responsible for rendering justice for all subjects; however, they do not personally rule in judicial cases. Instead, judicial functions are performed in their name. Hence, the common law holds that the sovereign "can do no wrong"; the monarch cannot be prosecuted in their own courts for criminal offences. Civil lawsuits against the Crown in its public capacity (that is, lawsuits against the government) are permitted; however, lawsuits against the monarch personally are not cognisable. In international cases, as a sovereign and under established principles of international law, the Queen of Belize is not subject to suit in foreign courts without her express consent. The sovereign, and by extension the Governor General, also exercises the "prerogative of mercy," and may pardon offences against the Crown. Pardons may be awarded before, during, or after a trial.
In addition, the monarch also serves as a symbol of the legitimacy of courts of justice, and of their judicial authority. An image of the Queen or the Arms of Her Majesty in Right of Belize is always displayed in Belizean courtrooms. Itinerant judges will display an image of the Queen and the Belizean flag when holding a session away from established courtrooms; such situations occur in parts of Belize where the stakeholders in a given court case are too isolated geographically to be able to travel for regular proceedings.
In Belize the legal personality of the state is referred to as "Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Belize." If a lawsuit is filed against the government, the respondent is formally described as Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Belize. In this capacity, all Crown copyright is held by the Queen.
The Crown holds a prominent place within the Military of Belize. The Queen is the Commander-in-Chief of the entire Forces, though the Governor-General holds this title and exercises the duties on behalf of the sovereign.
The sovereign's position and role in the military is reflected by naval vessels bearing the prefix Her Majesty's Belizean Ship (HMBS) – His Majesty's Belizean Ship during the reign of a king – and all members of the Armed Forces must swear allegiance to the Queen and her heirs and successors. As such, members of the royal family have presided over many military ceremonies both abroad and at home, including Trooping the Colours, inspections of the troops, and anniversaries of key battles.