5.1.2 The Royal Prerogative Lecture

Throughout the UK’s constitutional history, the relationship between the monarch and Parliament has been subject to change. Since the existence of the Royal prerogative in the seventeenth century was established when the King was the Chief Executive; when the relationship between the ruler and rules was established upon a form of contractual agreement. There was also an essential religious element to the Kings powers; the implication existed that the King's leadership would conform to Christian beliefs and obligations.

The Royal prerogative: personal and political prerogative powers cover those areas that the monarch used to be able exercise without any further authorisation or consultation. Such powers reflected the areas which were covered by prerogative powers: foreign affairs, national defence and national security as well as appointing certain office holders and granting honours. Prerogative powers are created in common law so are not codified in any form, as a result they are not always easy to discern. Constitutional conventions, which are non-legal practices have been established over time to place limits upon prerogative powers. These conventions are also considered to be due for reform.

Examples of the royal prerogative

  • The legislature and legislation - the opening and dissolution of Parliament and providing royal assent to legislation.
  • Appointments to certain state offices and award of honours - including the PM and the senior judiciary.
  • Courts and the justice system - prerogative or mercy and the Attorney General’s representative of the Crown in legal proceedings.
  • Foreign affairs - including the issue of passports, the signing of treaties, the recognition of diplomats and foreign states.
  • Defence - including the deployment of forces abroad, acts as commander in chief of armed forces.
  • Emergency powers related to national security.
  • Creation of bodies by charter - including universities, and professional bodies.

Prerogative powers are capable of being abolished expressly or by implication through Statute. Frequently Parliament has not abolished powers but has created a statutory regime dealing with the same subject. Some prerogative powers, such as the dissolution of Parliament are unlikely to give rise to challenge in the courts. Where prerogative powers directly affect the rights of an individual the courts might be required to adjudicate disputes between parties.

Calls for the reform of prerogative powers have been made since the 1980s and 1990s. No interest was shown in the reform of the prerogative powers during the Blair government (1997-2007). Progress was made during Gordon Brown's time in office, but since the Coalition government of 2010- 2015 and then the Conservative government of 2015, no further progress has been made. Despite widespread support for reform, the implementation of such reforms has proved complex due to the wide-ranging scope of prerogative powers.


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