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The Privy Council


Until the18th century the Privy Council was a body of advisers of the King (or Queen) and the chief source of executive power. As the system of Cabinet government developed, the Privy Council lost its political importance, but it is still a source of committees: the Cabinet is formally regarded as of Privy Councillors. Persons who are appointed ministers of Cabinet rank are all made members for the rest of their lives. Thus the Privy Council is composed of 1) Cabinet ministers, 2) former Cabinet ministers, 3) persons to whom membership has been given as an honour. All Privy Councillors are entitled for the prefix Right Honourable. All Government orders are still called Orders in Council.

Another important committee is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which is the final court of appeal from the courts of the United Kingdom dependencies and from the courts of those independent members of the Commonwealth which continue to reorganize it as such.

Nowadays the main function of the Privy Council is to advise the Queen to approve Orders in Council (those made under prerogative powers, such as Orders approving the grant of royal charters of incorporation; and those made under statutory powers). Members of the Privy Council attending meetings at which Orders are made do not thereby become personally responsible for the policy upon which the Orders are based; this rests with the minister responsible for the subject matter of the Order in question, whether or not he or she was present at the meeting.

The Privy Council also advises the Crown on the issue of royal proclamations, some of the most important of which relate to prerogative acts (such as summoning or dissolving Parliament). The Council's own statutory responsibilities, which are independent of the powers of the Sovereign in Council, include powers of supervision over the registering bodies for the medical and allied professions.

Apart from Cabinet ministers, who must be Privy Counsellors and are sworn in on first assuming office, membership of the Council (retained for life) is accorded by the Sovereign on the recommendation of the Prime Minister to eminent people in independent monarchical countries of the Commonwealth. There are about 380 Privy Counsellors. A full Council is summoned only on the death of the Sovereign or when the Sovereign announces his or her intention to marry.


Committees of the Privy Council


There are a number of advisory Privy Council committees whose meetings differ from those of the Privy Council itself in that the Sovereign cannot constitutionally be present. These may be prerogative committees, such as those dealing with legislative matters submitted by the legislatures of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man (which are Crown dependencies and not part of the United Kingdom)1 and with applications for charters of incorporation; or they may be provided for by statute as are those for the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and the Scottish universities.

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is the final court of appeal from the courts of the United Kingdom dependencies, courts of independent members of the Commonwealth which have not discontinued the appeal, courts of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, and certain other courts, some professional and disciplinary committees and ecclesiastical courts.

Administrative work is carried out in the Privy Council Office under the Lord President of the Council, a Cabinet minister.

The legislatures of the Channel Islands (the States of Jersey and the States of Guernsey) and the Isle of Man (the Tynwald Court) consist of the Queen, the Privy Council and the local assemblies. It is the duty of the Home Secretary, as the member of the Privy Council primarily concerned with island affairs, to scrutinize each legislative measure before it is submitted to the Queen in Council.



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