The Royal Prerogative

I’ve Just read an article and wondered what this was ‘ The Royal Prerogative ‘ as never heard of it before – so if like me you never knew here’s the answer,

The Royal Prerogatives are a series of historic powers formally exercised by the monarch acting alone, but which in reality are exercised by government ministers. They enable government ministers to rule virtually by decree, without the backing of or consultation with Parliament, in many areas not covered by statute. A.V Dicey has described the Royal Prerogative as: “the residue of discretionary or arbitrary authority which at any given time is legally left in the hands of the crown”.

What are the prerogative powers?

In relation to foreign affairs, the powers cover:

the recognition of foreign states;
the declaration of war;
the making of treaties;
the accreditation of diplomats; and
the deployment of armed forces in the UK and abroad.
In relation to domestic matters, the powers include:

the appointment and dismissal of ministers;
the issuing and withdrawal of passports;
the appointment of Queen’s Counsel;
the dissolution of Parliament;
the granting of honours;
appointments to, and employment conditions of, the civil service;
the commissioning and regulation of the armed forces; and
the calling of elections.
There is also the prerogative of ‘mercy’, which affects the judicial system. It means that ‘pardons’ can be granted in relation to a criminal conviction (i.e. it used to allow the withdrawal of the death penalty), or legal proceedings can be halted against an individual.

Who exercises them?

The Queen will exercise the prerogative these days only in accordance with advice from government ministers. However, there are still some powers that she can exercise directly, for example, there are some honours (e.g. the Order of Merit) within her personal choice. There are also some circumstances where the Crown may need to have some personal influence, for instance if there is a hung parliament. However, on the whole, the executive exercises prerogative powers.


The main concern regarding the Royal Prerogative is that the powers are outdated and can be exercised by the Government without recourse to Parliament. As they are not enshrined in statute, they are unclear. In the past, government ministers have refused to respond to questioning on them on the grounds that they are not responsible to Parliament for providing advice or information in relation to prerogative powers. However, Parliament through its scrutiny procedures, can ask the Government to account for its exercise of the prerogative.

The powers allow for governments to potentially take the country to war, or to sign far-reaching treaties, without consultation with Parliament. Given the seriousness of a decision on whether or not to take a country to war, it seems archaic and undemocratic that such a decision in this country can be taken without a formal right of debate in Parliament.

Although Tony Blair did consult with Parliament before declaring war in Iraq, whether Parliament is allowed such a vote should not be decided at the behest of the Prime Minister; indeed, future Prime Ministers may not take such a democratic view.

Unless the prerogative is expressly abolished, it will remain an uncertain and somewhat arbitrary source of power for the Government and the Crown. However, prerogative powers can be, and have been in some cases, diluted if new legislation regulating the same subject comes into force.


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