By royal decree King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain will maintain the titles of king and queen after Juan Carlos abdicates the throne of Spain to his son Felipe. This has been done to make sure that the king retains his sovereign immunity. After all it would not be good for the king to be charged with crimes he may have done while king and spend his retirement in the pokey.
Sovereign immunity, or crown immunity, is a legal doctrine by which the sovereign or state cannot commit a legal wrong and is immune from civil suit or criminal prosecution. In constitutional monarchies the sovereign is the historical origin of the authority which creates the courts. Thus the courts had no power to compel the sovereign to be bound by the courts, as they were created by the sovereign for the protection of his or her subjects.
The Vatican City is also considered a sovereign state by the 1929 Lateran Pact. When Pope Benedict XVI retired people began lining up to charge the pope with crimes, particularly those related to the cover-up of child sexual abuse. However, it is not legally clear if an ex-pope is still legally immune. So, just to be on the safe side, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI does not leave the legally protected boundaries of Vatican City. Sometimes we are prisoners of our own device.
Spanish king and queen to retain titles and immunity after abdication
Spain's royal palace has announced that King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia will retain the title of king and queen after their son Felipe assumes the throne on Thursday.
A royal decree to be passed by the council of ministers on Wednesday will ensure that the royal couple maintain their immunity from civil or criminal prosecution.
Almost as soon as the king announced his abdication this month there was speculation as to whether the royals would retain their immunity. The government, caught off guard, began drawing up special legislation within 24 hours of the announcement.
Other members of the royal family do not have immunity and the king's youngest daughter, the Infanta Cristina, is being investigated on charges of tax fraud and money laundering relating to the business activities of her husband, Iñaki Urdangarin. Cristina has not been invited to her brother's investiture.
Last year two judges in Madrid threw out paternity cases brought against the king on the grounds that they pre-dated his reign and therefore he was "not subject to responsibility" under the constitution. Had he lost his immunity on stepping down from the throne, these cases could have been heard by ordinary courts.