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The Royal Prerogative in the UK

Info: 2158 words (9 pages) Essay
Published: 12th May 2021

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Jurisdiction / Tag(s): UK Law

Describe The Significance Of The Royal Prerogative In The U.K, Legal Framework And Describe Its Relationship With Acts Of Parliament And Conventions.

Note: You can find more information on this topic in our Royal Prerogative lecture notes.

This essay will aim to address what a Royal Prerogative is and the significance of this power within the U.K Legal framework. In addition, this essay will also look at how other areas of the law such as Acts of Parliament and conventions have influenced and challenged the power and significance of the Royal Prerogatives until the present day. There have also been numerous challenges to the Royal Prerogative through cases brought before the courts. These cases have had mixed success in challenging the Royal Prerogative. This essay will also reflect on the future of the Royal Prerogative within the United Kingdom legal framework and whether all remaining Royal Prerogatives will be incorporated into a statutory format as the United Kingdom moves ever towards the possibility of a written constitution.

The Royal Prerogative has been defined by some sources as ‘The special rights, powers, and immunities to which the Crown alone is entitled under the common law.’ The scope of these powers and who the Crown is has changed over time as the United Kingdom legal framework has changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. In modern times, the powers and rights allocated within the Royal Prerogative not only apply the Crown or Monarch but in modern day politics, extend to ministers as well. This is due to the fact that many modern day prerogatives are made by representatives of the Crown, rather than by the Queen directly, as the Queen has limited power, prerogatives are usually exercised by members of the executive under the Queen’s authority. However, the Queen does have some control over the appointment of ministers as ‘the Queen has unlimited power to appoint whom she pleases to be her ministers.’ The representatives of the Crown are usually Ministers who form part of the executive. They are directly responsible to parliament when exercising the powers of the Royal Prerogative.

Royal Prerogatives can be categorised into quite a number of different areas such as the Judicial i.e. ‘it is under the prerogative that the Crown grants special leave to appeal from colonial courts to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.’ There are numerous other areas where the Prerogative powers are used and scope of these ranges from the signing of treaties, which is usually done by a Minister on behalf of the Queen, to the opening of Parliament that is one of the few Royal Prerogatives the Queen still exercises herself. There is no clear definition as to the extent to which these powers exist and whether or not some of these prerogatives are still viable today, ‘some have fallen out of use altogether, probably forever-such as the power to press men into the Navy.’ It is also a matter of concern that the majority of Royal Prerogatives are no longer in the hands of the Monarch and are used by the executive arm of government.

One of the earliest reported cases that openly challenged the Royal Prerogatives is the Case of Impositions (1606). In this case, the defendant refused to pay a duty on imported goods imposed by the King by Royal Prerogative. It was held that the King could do this as he was not raising taxes but was doing this to regulate trade. This was followed by Parliament legislating against levying taxes without their consent in the Petition of Rights 1628. This was one of the first struggles between the Monarchy and Parliament for supremacy of law under the format of the Royal Prerogative. However, academics have criticised the Petition of Rights 1628, as ‘It did not in terms deal with what we now call indirect taxes, where only a little time before the judges had pronounced in Bate’s Case that the king did have rights to impose taxes on imports. So it left the matter unclear.’

The scope of the Royal Prerogative and its powers has been subject to an ongoing battle between the Monarch and Parliament for many years up to the present day. The first instance where the power of the Monarch was curtailed by legislature can be traced back as far as the Prohibitions Del Roy. In this case, it was held that the King could sit in the Kings Bench but would not be allowed to pass judgement on any matters that which concerned the administration of justice. The Bill of Rights 1688 was the next major step that curtailed the Royal prerogative as the previous Monarch; James II had aggressively used the Royal Prerogative to amend laws and to levy taxes.

Under the Bill of Rights 1688, it is written ‘That levying Money for or to the Use of the Crowne by pretence of Prerogative without Grant of Parlyament for longer time or in other manner then the same is or shall be granted is Illegall.’ This extract from the Bill of Rights 1688 stopped Monarchs from levying taxes as and when it saw fit. This is one of the main restrictions on the royal and prerogative powers of the Monarchy, which were imposed on Prince William, and Mary of Orange as it affirmed that the monarch was subject to the law. Legislation has further limited prerogative powers even to whom the current Monarch can choose as a successor to the Crown as the Act of Settlement 1700 states that the next in line to the Throne ‘shall joyn in Communion with the Church of England as by Law established’. Therefore, this means that the successor must be a member of the Church of England. However, there have been calls from ministers to change this limitation as reported.

‘On 21 January introduced his Royal Marriages and Succession to the Crown (Prevention of Discrimination) Bill. The Long Title describes it as ‘a Bill to make provision to remove discrimination in respect of Royal marriages and succession to the Crown’. This shows that Parliament is contemplating legislating in this area, which will affect the power of the Royal Prerogative in choosing an heir and will allow succession of those who are not members of the Church of England.

It is the evermore apparent that after the 19th Century, the formation of stable governments due to the expansion of the franchise using the Reform Acts of 1832 and the Reform Act of 1867. This meant that the Monarchs power under the Royal Prerogative to choose whom they wished as the next Prime Minister was also curtailed. Legitimate elections and the support of the public of one party gaining a majority in the House of Commons legitimised the leader of that party meaning that it was more likely they would gain the title of Prime Minister. The formation of stable governments also meant that the Monarch was more likely to use Ministers to invoke Royal Prerogatives and not challenge Parliament or face consequences such as a further seizure of the Royal Prerogatives into statute.

One of the main fundamental legal principals is the Rule of Law and this is contradictory to the Royal Prerogative as Dicey states that ‘No man is punishable or can be lawfully made to suffer in body or goods except for a distinct breach of law established in the ordinary legal manner before the ordinary courts.’ This is one of the any principles that Dicey states about the Rule of Law that contradict with the doctrine of the Royal Prerogative as it is not ordinary law because it is not a statute made by parliament. Another principle Dicey puts forward is that everyone is equal before the law and subject to its laws, yet under the entitlements of the Royal Prerogative it has been taken that the Queen or Monarch cannot be prosecuted in the courts as, she would effectively be prosecuting herself. Since all criminal cases, it is the Crown that prosecutes breaches of the law through the workings of the Crown Prosecution Service. However, it is unclear as to how far this protection of those associated with the Crown from liability extends as the Queen’s daughter, Princess Anne has been prosecuted under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

Conventions are another way the royal prerogative is limited and there is often a blur between a constitutional convention and royal prerogative. Both of these features of the U.K legal system are unwritten and this has given rise to many criticisms of these areas. Conventions are hard to define but many academics have offered their opinions as to what a convention is for example ‘a rule of behaviour accepted as obligatory by those concerned in the working of a constitution.’ There are a few known conventions such as the now redundant ‘Salisbury – Addison Convention’, which stated that when the House of Lords had a majority of hereditary peers they could not reject legislation that was part of the government’s manifesto.

There is wide speculation to how binding conventions are to ministers as they are not enforceable by the courts, yet the courts may decide to look at conventions in order to decide a point of law. Sometimes when a convention is broken, law is also broken as shown in the case of A-G v Jonathan Cape. In this case, the convention of keeping Ministerial expressions during cabinet meeting secret was a convention yet also there is also a legal obligation for confidentiality as well. This is in contrast with the earlier case of Madzimbamuto v Lardner-Burke where the courts acknowledged the convention but it was in conflict with parliamentary supremacy so the convention went into abeyance.

It is apparent that both conventions and the Royal Prerogative are features within the U.K. legal framework that select committees have called for codification yet these calls have been rebutted. The defence for keeping the Royal Prerogatives uncodified is so that it allows greater flexibility in times of emergency and the impact on the application of the Prerogative is not detrimental as in the case of A-G v De Keyser’s Royal Hotel Limited. In this case, it was held that the Royal Prerogative would go into abeyance as statute had legislated in the area the case was being decided upon.

However, the principle of the Royal Prerogative going into abeyance was not followed in R. v Secretary of State for the Home Department Ex p. Northumbria Police Authority as they decided that in matters where the Royal Prerogative is there for the benefit or protection of the individual that it will not go into abeyance in this circumstance.

It could be argued that constitutional conventions should not be put on a legislative footing, as it is impossible to predict every set of circumstances that could arise. This could lead to problems particularly with the Monarch’s convention of assenting Bills from Parliament was legislated what would happen if an extremist government came to power would the Queen be able to prevent legislation being passed.

In conclusion, the Royal Prerogative is an intrinsic and fundamental part of the U.K legal framework. The powers afforded under the Royal Prerogative although much weaker, than originally were when the Stuart Dynasty were on the throne, are now appropriate for a modern constitutional monarchy. This erosion of power has come about through Acts of Parliament to try and redistribute power into the hands of the people.



Oxford Dictionary of Law 7th Edition 2009 Oxford: Oxford University Press

Wheare, K Modern Constitutions, 2nd Edition 1966 USA, Oxford University Press,

Alder, J Constitutional and Administrative Law, 7th Edition 2009 , London: Pearson

Bradley, A.W. and Ewing, K.D. Constitutional and Administrative Law 14th Edition 2007 Harlow, Pearson Longman


Three hundred years on: are our tax bills right yet? David W. Williams. B.T.R. 1989, 11, 375

Parliamentary report. Frank Cranmer. Ecc. L.J. 2009, 11(2), 209


Bill of Rights 1688 c.2 1_Will_and_Mar_Sess_2

Act of Settlement 1700 c. 2 s.3

The Representation of the People Act 1832

Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (c.65)


Case of Impostitions (1606) 2 St Tr 371

Prohibitions Del Roy (1607) EWHC KB J23

Attorney General v De Keyser’s Royal Hotel (1920) A.C. 508

Madzimbamuto v Lardner-Burke (1969) AC 645

Attorney General v Jonathan Cape (1976) QB 752

R. v Secretary of State for the Home Department Ex p. Northumbria Police Authority [1989] Q.B. 26



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