The Royal Prerogative is a body of customary authority, privilege, and immunity, recognized in common law and, sometimes, in civil law jurisdictions possessing a monarchy as belonging to the Sovereign alone. It is the means by which some of the executive powers of government, possessed by and vested in a monarch with regard to the process of governance of their state, are carried out. The analogous institution in a Republic such as the United States would be a reserve clause that reserves all unspecified powers to the federated states or the people. In a constitutional monarchy such as the United Kingdon, individual prerogatives can be abolished by Parliament although special procedure applies.
While prerogative powers were originally exercised by the monarch acting alone, and do not require parliamentary consent, they are now always exercised on the advice of the Prime Minister or the Cabinet, who is then accountable for the decision to Parliament. There may be situations in which the monarch could choose to exercise the Royal Prerogative without the advice of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. Such situations are rare, and generally only occur in emergencies or where existing precedent does not adequately apply to the circumstances in question. In many liberal-democratic constitutional monarchies, such actions could precipitate a constitutional crisis.
Not all constitutional monarchs have royal prerogative that can be exercised independently however. For example, the King of Sweden and the Emperor of Japan have specific government duties that cannot be exercised with any degree of individual discretion, no matter what the circumstance.
In the Kingdom of England (up to 1707), the Kingdom of Great Britain (1707–1800) and the United Kingdom (since 1801), the Royal Prerogative historically was one of the central features of the realm's governance.
Constitutional theorist AV Dicey gives the standard definition of what prerogative powers are:
... the remaining portion of the Crown's original authority, and it is therefore ... the name for the residue of discretionary power left at any moment in the hands of the Crown, whether such power be in fact exercised by the King himself or by his Ministers.
Ministerial exercise of the monarch's prerogatives
Today, some prerogative powers 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, with whom the monarch meets on a weekly basis, and on the advice of en:Cabinet of the United Kingdom. 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(s), 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 (1611) during the reign of King James I/VI|James I of England|James I/VI, English common law courts judges emphatically asserted that they possessed the right to determine the limits of the Royal Prerogative. Since the Glorious Revolution (1688), which brought co-monarchs Queen Mary II and King William III to power; this interpretation of there being a separate and distinct power of the Judiciary has not been challenged by en:the Crown. 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.
The Royal Prerogative
In Canada, the power to issue passports remains under the Royal Prerogative. The government has used the Royal Prerogative to deny passports to a citizen whom the US government had held, and released, from the American prison in the US Naval base at Guantanamo Bay. Abdurahman Khadr was denied a passport by the Canadian government.
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. The Governor-General 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.
Generally, the crown 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 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, in 1774. Campbell v. Hall decided that once a colony gained a representative assembly (or once the governor has been instructed to call one) then 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 urks and Caicos Islands, a UK Dependency, was revested in the Governor, on the advice of HM Government in the UK, under an Order-in-Council of 18 March 2009, which suspended and amended parts of the Islands' en: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 en:Her Majesty's en:Governor. The en:Governor remains subject to the amended Constitution, and in practice to the instructions of en:the Queen's en:Foreign Office in the UK.
In the case of en:Chagos Archipelago islands, in 2000, the en:High Court of Justice of England and Wales ruled that a local Ordinance made by the Commissioner of the en:British Indian Ocean Territory exiling the islanders was unlawful, a decision which was accepted by the British en:Foreign Secretary en:Robin Cook. However 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 en: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. 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 en:Spanish Constitution of 1978, 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 established by Juan Carlos I, the king exercises his prerogatives having solicited government advice while maintaining a politically en:non-partisan and independent monarchy. Receiving government advice does not necessarily bind the monarch into executing the advice, except where prescribed by the constitution.
It is incumbent upon the King:
- a. To Sanction and promulgate the laws
- b. To summon and dissolve the en:Cortes Generales and to call for elections under the terms provided for in the Constitution.
- c. To Call for a referendum in the cases provided for in the Constitution.
- e. To appoint and dismiss members of the Government on the President of the Government's proposal.
- f. To issue the decrees approved in the Council of Ministers, to confer civil and military honours and distinctions in conformity with the law.
- g. To be informed of the affairs of State and, for this purpose, to preside over the meetings of the Council of Ministers whenever, he sees fit, at the President of the Government's request.
- h. To exercise supreme command of the Armed Forces
- i. To exercise the right of clemency in accordance with the law, which may not authorize general pardons.
- j. To exercise the High Patronage of the Royal Academies.
- Royal Prerogative of the Spanish monarchy
- en:Executive privilege
- en:Letters patent
- en:Reserve power
- en:Royal assent
- en:Royal charter
- en:Royal Order
- en:Statutory Instrument
- en:Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution
- Joseph Chitty, The Prerogatives of the Crown (monograph from 1820)
- Stanley de Smith and Rodney Brazier, Constitutional and Administrative Law
- en:A. B. Keith, The King and the Imperial Crown (1936)
- Parliament Report on the powers of the Royal Prerogative
- Taming the Prerogative: Strengthening Ministerial Accountability to Parliament (Government Response)
- In Commonwealth realms, the wording "the Crown" is usually used in this context instead of "King or Queen"
- House of Commons - Public Administration - Fourth Report
- UK Parliament - PASC 19
- en:Campbell v. Hall, 1774
- e.g. The St. Vincent and Grenada Constitution Act 1876 (39 & 40 Vict. c. 47)
- The Turks and Caicos Islands Constitution (Interim Amendment) Order 2009
- Britain wins appeal over Chagos islanders' return home
- Chagos islanders cannot return home
- Título II. De la Corona, Wikisource
- The Royal Household of H.M. The King website
- Part IV Government and Administration
- Título VI. Del Poder Judicial