Royal Prerogative
The royal prerogative is a body of customary authority, privilege, and immunity, recognized in common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 and, sometimes, in civil law
Civil law (legal system)
Civil law is a legal system inspired by Roman law and whose primary feature is that laws are codified into collections, as compared to common law systems that gives great precedential weight to common law on the principle that it is unfair to treat similar facts differently on different...

 jurisdictions possessing a monarchy as belonging to the sovereign
A sovereign is the supreme lawmaking authority within its jurisdiction.Sovereign may also refer to:*Monarch, the sovereign of a monarchy*Sovereign Bank, banking institution in the United States*Sovereign...

 alone. It is the means by which some of the executive
Executive (government)
Executive branch of Government is the part of government that has sole authority and responsibility for the daily administration of the state bureaucracy. The division of power into separate branches of government is central to the idea of the separation of powers.In many countries, the term...

 powers of government, possessed by and vested in a monarch with regard to the process of governance of their state, are carried out. Individual prerogatives can be abolished by Parliament, although in the United Kingdom special procedure applies.

Though some republic
A republic is a form of government in which the people, or some significant portion of them, have supreme control over the government and where offices of state are elected or chosen by elected people. In modern times, a common simplified definition of a republic is a government where the head of...

an heads of state possess similar powers, they are not coterminous, containing a number of fundamental differences, and may be either more or less extensive (cf. reserve power
Reserve power
In a parliamentary or semi-presidential system of government, a reserve power is a power that may be exercised by the head of state without the approval of another branch of the government. Unlike a presidential system of government, the head of state is generally constrained by the cabinet or the...


In England, while prerogative powers were originally exercised by the monarch acting alone, without an observed requirement for parliament
A parliament is a legislature, especially in those countries whose system of government is based on the Westminster system modeled after that of the United Kingdom. The name is derived from the French , the action of parler : a parlement is a discussion. The term came to mean a meeting at which...

ary consent (after Magna Carta
Magna Carta
Magna Carta is an English charter, originally issued in the year 1215 and reissued later in the 13th century in modified versions, which included the most direct challenges to the monarch's authority to date. The charter first passed into law in 1225...

), since the accession of the House of Hanover
George I of Great Britain
George I was King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1 August 1714 until his death, and ruler of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg in the Holy Roman Empire from 1698....

 they have been generally exercised on the advice of the Prime Minister
Prime minister
A prime minister is the most senior minister of cabinet in the executive branch of government in a parliamentary system. In many systems, the prime minister selects and may dismiss other members of the cabinet, and allocates posts to members within the government. In most systems, the prime...

 or the Cabinet
Cabinet (government)
A Cabinet is a body of high ranking government officials, typically representing the executive branch. It can also sometimes be referred to as the Council of Ministers, an Executive Council, or an Executive Committee.- Overview :...

, who in turn is accountable to Parliament, exclusively so, except in matters of the Royal Family, since at least the time of Queen Victoria.

Typically in liberal democracies
Liberal democracy
Liberal democracy, also known as constitutional democracy, is a common form of representative democracy. According to the principles of liberal democracy, elections should be free and fair, and the political process should be competitive...

 which are constitutional monarchies, such as those of Denmark, Japan
Emperor of Japan
The Emperor of Japan is, according to the 1947 Constitution of Japan, "the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people." He is a ceremonial figurehead under a form of constitutional monarchy and is head of the Japanese Imperial Family with functions as head of state. He is also the highest...

 or Sweden, the Royal Prerogative serves as a prescribed ceremonial function of the state power.


In the Kingdom of England
Kingdom of England
The Kingdom of England was, from 927 to 1707, a sovereign state to the northwest of continental Europe. At its height, the Kingdom of England spanned the southern two-thirds of the island of Great Britain and several smaller outlying islands; what today comprises the legal jurisdiction of England...

 (up to 1707), the Kingdom of Great Britain
Kingdom of Great Britain
The former Kingdom of Great Britain, sometimes described as the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain', That the Two Kingdoms of Scotland and England, shall upon the 1st May next ensuing the date hereof, and forever after, be United into One Kingdom by the Name of GREAT BRITAIN. was a sovereign...

 (1707–1800) and the United Kingdom (since 1801), the Royal Prerogative historically was one of the central features of the realm
A realm is a dominion of a monarch or other sovereign ruler.The Old French word reaume, modern French royaume, was the word first adopted in English; the fixed modern spelling does not appear until the beginning of the 17th century...

's governance.

Constitutional theorist AV Dicey gives the standard definition of what prerogative powers are:
The scope of the royal prerogative is difficult to determine. It is clear that the existence and extent of the power is a matter of common law, making the courts the final arbiter of whether or not a particular type of prerogative exists.

Ministerial exercise of the monarch's prerogatives

Today, some prerogatives are directly exercised by ministers without the approval of Parliament, including, in the United Kingdom, the powers to regulate the civil service, issue passports and grant honours. Some prerogative powers are exercised nominally by the monarch, but on the advice of the Prime Minister
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign, to Parliament, to their political party and...

, with whom the monarch meets weekly, and on the advice of Cabinet of the United Kingdom
Cabinet of the United Kingdom
The Cabinet of the United Kingdom is the collective decision-making body of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, composed of the Prime Minister and some 22 Cabinet Ministers, the most senior of the government ministers....

. Some key areas of the British system of government are still carried out by means of the Royal Prerogative, but its usage has been diminishing as functions are progressively made statutory.

Contrary to widespread belief, the royal prerogative is not constitutionally unlimited. While the sovereign has the right to promulgate (i.e., create and proclaim) new law, it is a form of reserve power not constitutionally used. (Her Majesty, as Head of State of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms, has the right to use the Royal Prerogative over any nation where she is Head of State.)

In the Case of Proclamations
Case of Proclamations
The Case of Proclamations [1610] was a court decision during the reign of King James I which defined some limitations on the Royal Prerogative at that time. Principally, it established that the Monarch could make laws only through parliament...

 (1611) during the reign of King James I/VI
James I of England
James VI and I was King of Scots as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603...

, English common law courts judges emphatically asserted that they possessed the right to determine the limits of the Royal Prerogative. Since the Glorious Revolution
Glorious Revolution
The Glorious Revolution, also called the Revolution of 1688, is the overthrow of King James II of England by a union of English Parliamentarians with the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange-Nassau...

 (1688), which brought co-monarchs Queen Mary II
Mary II of England
Mary II was joint Sovereign of England, Scotland, and Ireland with her husband and first cousin, William III and II, from 1689 until her death. William and Mary, both Protestants, became king and queen regnant, respectively, following the Glorious Revolution, which resulted in the deposition of...

 and King William III
William III of England
William III & II was a sovereign Prince of Orange of the House of Orange-Nassau by birth. From 1672 he governed as Stadtholder William III of Orange over Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic. From 1689 he reigned as William III over England and Ireland...

 to power; this interpretation of there being a separate and distinct power of the Judiciary has not been challenged by the Crown
The Crown
The Crown is a corporation sole that in the Commonwealth realms and any provincial or state sub-divisions thereof represents the legal embodiment of governance, whether executive, legislative, or judicial...

. It has been accepted that it is emphatically the province of the Court(s) to say what the law is, or means. This is a crucial corollary and foundation to the concept of the Judicial Power; and its distinct and separate nature from the Executive Power possessed by the Crown itself, or its Ministers.


In Canada, for the most part, the Royal Prerogative is the same as that in the United Kingdom, as constrained by constitutional convention, although its exercise is through the Governor General
Governor General of Canada
The Governor General of Canada is the federal viceregal representative of the Canadian monarch, Queen Elizabeth II...

 or the lieutenant governor
Lieutenant Governor (Canada)
In Canada, a lieutenant governor is the viceregal representative in a provincial jurisdiction of the Canadian monarch and head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, who resides predominantly in her oldest realm, the United Kingdom...

s of the provinces
Provinces and territories of Canada
The provinces and territories of Canada combine to make up the world's second-largest country by area. There are ten provinces and three territories...

. The royal prerogative in Canada is largely set out in Part III of the Constitution Act, 1867
Constitution Act, 1867
The Constitution Act, 1867 , is a major part of Canada's Constitution. The Act created a federal dominion and defines much of the operation of the Government of Canada, including its federal structure, the House of Commons, the Senate, the justice system, and the taxation system...

, particularly section 9. Other sections, such as 15, sets out the Royal Prerogative in relation to the armed forces
Canadian Forces
The Canadian Forces , officially the Canadian Armed Forces , are the unified armed forces of Canada, as constituted by the National Defence Act, which states: "The Canadian Forces are the armed forces of Her Majesty raised by Canada and consist of one Service called the Canadian Armed Forces."...

. The Royal Prerogative in Canada even extends to the granting of honours, as explained by the Court of Appeal for Ontario in Black v. Chrétien
Black v. Chrétien
Black v. Chrétien is the name of a legal dispute between businessman Conrad Black and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien over the former's right to obtain British citizenship and become a member of the House of Lords...

 (regarding Conrad Black
Conrad Black
Conrad Moffat Black, Baron Black of Crossharbour, OC, KCSG, PC is a Canadian-born member of the British House of Lords, and a historian, columnist and publisher, who was for a time the third largest newspaper magnate in the world. Lord Black controlled Hollinger International, Inc...

's entitlement to an appointment to the House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

 while a Canadian citizen). Other Royal Prerogatives, such as the prerogative of mercy, also carry over into the Canadian context.

The power to issue passports also remains under the Royal Prerogative in Canada. The terms for the issuing of passports by the Minister of Foreign Affairs on behalf of the Crown are set out in the Canadian Passport Order, issued by the Governor-in-Council under the Royal Prerogative. The Canadian government
Government of Canada
The Government of Canada, formally Her Majesty's Government, is the system whereby the federation of Canada is administered by a common authority; in Canadian English, the term can mean either the collective set of institutions or specifically the Queen-in-Council...

 has used the Royal Prerogative on one occasion to deny passports to a Canadian citizen whom the United States government
Federal government of the United States
The federal government of the United States is the national government of the constitutional republic of fifty states that is the United States of America. The federal government comprises three distinct branches of government: a legislative, an executive and a judiciary. These branches and...

 held, and released, from the American prison in the US Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 base at Guantanamo Bay
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base is located on of land and water at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba which the United States leased for use as a coaling station following the Cuban-American Treaty of 1903. The base is located on the shore of Guantánamo Bay at the southeastern end of Cuba. It is the oldest overseas...

. Abdurahman Khadr
Abdurahman Khadr
Abdurahman Khadr is the third child of the Egyptian Canadian Khadr family, and was held in extrajudicial detention in the United States Guantanamo Bay detainment camps, in Cuba, after being detained in Afghanistan under suspicion of connections to Al-Qaeda...

 was denied a passport by the Canadian government. The Federal Court of Canada on judicial review quashed the Minister's refusal of a passport and ordered that the application be re-considered.

Other Commonwealth realms

In the other Commonwealth realms, the royal prerogative varies significantly from the prerogative in the United Kingdom, and is exercised by the Monarch's representative, the Governor-General
A Governor-General, is a vice-regal person of a monarch in an independent realm or a major colonial circonscription. Depending on the political arrangement of the territory, a Governor General can be a governor of high rank, or a principal governor ranking above "ordinary" governors.- Current uses...

. The Constitution
A constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed. These rules together make up, i.e. constitute, what the entity is...

 of a Commonwealth realm may sharply limit the prerogative in ways that do not apply in the United Kingdom and many governmental acts which would be done under the prerogative in the United Kingdom are given effect by the Constitution or Acts of Parliament in a Commonwealth realm.

British dependencies

Generally, the crown
The Crown
The Crown is a corporation sole that in the Commonwealth realms and any provincial or state sub-divisions thereof represents the legal embodiment of governance, whether executive, legislative, or judicial...

 retains all the power of the state in a crown colony (even if in practice it is not directly exercised). Thus the Royal Prerogative is in theory an unlimited, arbitrary authority. In British overseas territories
British overseas territories
The British Overseas Territories are fourteen territories of the United Kingdom which, although they do not form part of the United Kingdom itself, fall under its jurisdiction. They are remnants of the British Empire that have not acquired independence or have voted to remain British territories...

 however, each inhabited territory has a constitution by which the territory is governed locally.

The absoluteness of the royal prerogative in the colonies was however defeated in the case of Campbell v. Hall
Campbell v. Hall
Campbell v Hall was a case decided in the Court of King's Bench in 1774. On its face it was an action for recovery of sums paid to a tax agent. The matter was first heard in the Mayor's and City of London Court, which court found a special verdict and remitted it to the Court of King's Bench,...

in 1774. This case decided that once a colony gained a representative assembly (or once the governor has been instructed to call one), the royal authority is limited to the familiar prerogatives; without the assembly's consent the Crown could not raise taxation nor change the law. Several of the colonies of the British West Indies thus became "settled colonies", and reverted to "crown colony" status only by Act of Parliament in the nineteenth century.

In August 2009 the Government of the Turks and Caicos Islands
Turks and Caicos Islands
The Turks and Caicos Islands are a British Overseas Territory and overseas territory of the European Union consisting of two groups of tropical islands in the Caribbean, the larger Caicos Islands and the smaller Turks Islands, known for tourism and as an offshore financial centre.The Turks and...

, a UK Dependency, was revested in the Governor, on the advice of the Government of the United Kingdom
Government of the United Kingdom
Her Majesty's Government is the central government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Government is led by the Prime Minister, who selects all the remaining Ministers...

, under an Order in Council of 18 March 2009, which suspended and amended parts of the Islands' Constitution, and vacated all the offices of Ministers and the House of Assembly. This was not itself an exercise of the Royal Prerogative, as it was made under "the West Indies Act 1962 and of all other powers enabling Her to do so". However, in effect the Order extended the Royal Prerogative in the Islands, vesting wide discretionary legislative and executive powers in Her Majesty
Majesty is an English word derived ultimately from the Latin maiestas, meaning "greatness".- Origin :Originally, during the Roman republic, the word maiestas was the legal term for the supreme status and dignity of the state, to be respected above everything else...

's Governor. The Governor remains subject to the amended Constitution, and in practice to the instructions of the Queen's Foreign Office in the UK.

In the case of Chagos Archipelago
Chagos Archipelago
The Chagos Archipelago , is a group of seven atolls comprising more than 60 individual tropical islands in the Indian Ocean; situated some due south of the Maldives archipelago. This chain of islands are the southernmost archipelago of the Chagos-Laccadive Ridge a long submarine mountain range...

 islands, in 2000, the High Court of Justice of England and Wales ruled that a local ordinance made by the Commissioner of the British Indian Ocean Territory
British Indian Ocean Territory
The British Indian Ocean Territory or Chagos Islands is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom situated in the Indian Ocean, halfway between Africa and Indonesia...

 exiling the islanders was unlawful, a decision which was accepted by the British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook
Robin Cook
Robert Finlayson Cook was a British Labour Party politician, who was the Member of Parliament for Livingston from 1983 until his death, and notably served in the Cabinet as Foreign Secretary from 1997 to 2001....

. That Ordinance was legislation passed under authority given by the Royal Prerogative, not an exercise of the prerogative itself, and was overturned as being beyond the powers given. After this decision, the British Government issued an Order in Council, a primary exercise of the Royal Prerogative, to achieve the same objective. This Order was also ruled unlawful by the High Court, a ruling upheld in the Court of Appeal
Court of Appeal of England and Wales
The Court of Appeal of England and Wales is the second most senior court in the English legal system, with only the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom above it...

. However on Wednesday, 22 October 2008, the Government won its appeal in the House of Lords against the previous rulings. The House decided by a three-to-two majority that the Order in Council was a lawful exercise of authority. In their speeches, the Law Lords admitted the government of the day was morally wrong to force out some 2,000 residents of the Chagos Islands, a British colony, to make way for a US air base in the 1960s. Nevertheless, the majority could not find legal fault in the Order.


The Spanish Constitution of 1978
Spanish Constitution of 1978
-Structure of the State:The Constitution recognizes the existence of nationalities and regions . Preliminary Title As a result, Spain is now composed entirely of 17 Autonomous Communities and two autonomous cities with varying degrees of autonomy, to the extent that, even though the Constitution...

, Title II The Crown, Article 62, delineates the powers of the king, while Title IV Government and Administration, Article 99, defines the king's role in government. Title VI Judicial Power, Article 117, Articles 122 through 124, outlines the king's role in the country's independent judiciary. However, by constitutional convention
Constitutional convention (political custom)
A constitutional convention is an informal and uncodified procedural agreement that is followed by the institutions of a state. In some states, notably those Commonwealth of Nations states that follow the Westminster system and whose political systems derive from British constitutional law, most...

 established by Juan Carlos I
Juan Carlos I of Spain
Juan Carlos I |Italy]]) is the reigning King of Spain.On 22 November 1975, two days after the death of General Francisco Franco, Juan Carlos was designated king according to the law of succession promulgated by Franco. Spain had no monarch for 38 years in 1969 when Franco named Juan Carlos as the...

, the king exercises his prerogatives having solicited government advice while maintaining a politically non-partisan and independent monarchy. Receiving government advice does not necessarily bind the monarch into executing the advice, except where prescribed by the constitution.

See also

  • Executive privilege
    Executive privilege
    In the United States government, executive privilege is the power claimed by the President of the United States and other members of the executive branch to resist certain subpoenas and other interventions by the legislative and judicial branches of government...

  • Letters patent
    Letters patent
    Letters patent are a type of legal instrument in the form of a published written order issued by a monarch or president, generally granting an office, right, monopoly, title, or status to a person or corporation...

  • Queen-in-Parliament
    The Queen-in-Parliament , sometimes referred to as the Crown-in-Parliament or, more fully, as the King in Parliament under God, is a technical term of constitutional law in the Commonwealth realms that refers to the Crown in its legislative role, acting with the advice and consent of the lower...

  • Reserve power
    Reserve power
    In a parliamentary or semi-presidential system of government, a reserve power is a power that may be exercised by the head of state without the approval of another branch of the government. Unlike a presidential system of government, the head of state is generally constrained by the cabinet or the...

  • Royal assent
    Royal Assent
    The granting of royal assent refers to the method by which any constitutional monarch formally approves and promulgates an act of his or her nation's parliament, thus making it a law...

  • Royal charter
    Royal Charter
    A royal charter is a formal document issued by a monarch as letters patent, granting a right or power to an individual or a body corporate. They were, and are still, used to establish significant organizations such as cities or universities. Charters should be distinguished from warrants and...

  • Royal order
  • Statutory instrument
    Statutory Instrument
    A Statutory Instrument is the principal form in which delegated or secondary legislation is made in Great Britain.Statutory Instruments are governed by the Statutory Instruments Act 1946. They replaced Statutory Rules and Orders, made under the Rules Publication Act 1893, in 1948.Most delegated...

Additional reading

  • A. B. Keith, The King and the Imperial Crown (1936)
  • Joseph Chitty, The Prerogatives of the Crown (monograph from 1820)
  • Stanley de Smith
    Stanley Alexander de Smith
    Stanley Alexander de Smith FBA was an English academic lawyer and author.- Biography :Stanley de Smith was born in London and educated at Southend High School and St Catharine's College, Cambridge ; he received his doctorate from the University of London in 1959...

     and Rodney Brazier
    Rodney Brazier
    Rodney Brazier is a professor of constitutional law at the University of Manchester and a Barrister and Additional Bencher of Lincoln's Inn.His expertise on the British Constitution has been provided to various parliamentary committees and investigations, while he has written and co-written a wide...

    , Constitutional and Administrative Law
  • Walter Bagehot
    Walter Bagehot
    Walter Bagehot was an English businessman, essayist, and journalist who wrote extensively about literature, government, and economic affairs.-Early years:...

    , The English Constitution

External links

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