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Functions of the Monarch


The terms ‘the Sovereign’ (or ‘Monarch’) and ‘the Crown’, although related, are quite distinct. The Sovereign is the person on whom the Crown is constitutionally conferred, while the Crown (which represents both the Sovereign and Government) is the symbol of the supreme power. The Crown is vested in the Queen but in general its functions are exercised by ministers responsible to Parliament. The Queen reigns, but does not rule. The United Kingdom is governed by Her Majesty’s Government in the name of the Queen. There are, however, many important acts of government which still require the participation of the Queen.

The Queen summons, prorogues (discontinues until the next session without dissolving) and dissolves Parliament. Normally she opens the new session with a speech from the throne outlining her Government’s programme. When she is unable to be present, the Queen’s speech is read by the Lord Chancellor. Before a Bill which has passed all its stages in both Houses of Parliament becomes a legal enactment, it must receive the Royal Assent, which is announced to both Houses. The Queen presides over meetings of the Privy Council at which, among other things, Orders in Council made under the royal prerogative or under statute are approved.

As the ‘fountain of justice’, the Queen can, on ministerial advice, pardon or show mercy to those convicted of crimes. All criminal prosecutions on indictment are brought in the name of the Crown. In law the Queen as a private person can do no wrong, nor, being immune from civil or criminal proceedings, can she be sued in courts of law. This personal immunity, which does not extend to other members of the royal family, was expressly retained in ther Crown Proceedings Act 1947, which for the first time allowed the Crown (in effect, a government department or minister) to be sued directly in civil proceedings.

As the ‘fountain of honour’, the Queen confers peerages, knighthoods and other honours (on the recommendation of the Prime Minister who usually seeks the view of others). She makes appointments to many important state offices, although on the advice of the Prime Minister or, in some cases, the appropriate Cabinet Minister. She appoints and dismisses, for instance, government ministers, judges (the dismissal of judges is regulated by statute), members of the diplomatic corps and colonial officials. As Commander-in-Chief of the armed services she appoints officers, and as Supreme Governor of the established Church of England she makes appointments to its bishoprics and some other senior offices.

In international affairs, the Queen (to whom foreign diplomatic representatives in London present their credentials) has the power to conclude treaties, to declare war and to make peace, to recognize, and to annex and cede territory.


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