Public Law Essay

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One characteristic of the UK’s unique constitutional framework is that it is considered a constitutional monarchy. Discuss what is meant by “constitutional monarchy” before going on to provide a detailed evaluation of the powers of the royal prerogative in the twenty-first century.

This essay will look at what is meant by “constitutional monarchy”, before going on to look at and

evaluate the powers of the royal prerogative in the twenty-first century.

Constitutional monarchy

A constitutional monarchy is a form of constitutional government, where either an elected or hereditary

monarch is the Head of State. Britain has a constitutional monarchy. The constitutional monarchy is in which the monarch acknowledges the rights of the legislature and the executive branch of government, it also means that ‘the monarch’s power is largely exercised by the elected government.’ In addition, the British constitution isn’t set out in a single document. Instead it is made up of a combination of laws and conventions.

Over time there has been a transition in the UK from an executive monarch, where the monarch has

total control and power of the nation, to a “constitutional monarchy where the sovereign is the head of

state and symbolically represents the nation, but he or she is not the head of government.”#

Constitutional monarchy has a long history in the UK, up “until the seventeenth century British

monarchs were known as executive monarchs, which means that they had the right to make and pass

legislation.”# Vernon Bogdanor examined that in a constitutional monarchy we find “a set of

conventions which limit the discretion of the sovereign so that his or her public acts are in reality those

of ministers.”#

The effect of this transition from an executive to a constitutional monarchy is a reduction of the monarchs powers. “A significant amount of power has been delegated to the Prime Minister and Parliament. For example the ability to make and pass legislation is in the hands of Parliament, and the Queen should remain politically neutral therefore not following or showing signs of support for one or more political parties.”#

The Queen mustt therefore be looked upon as an icon with insignificant importance as she appears to possess no real powers. However the truth is that the Queen is indeed a powerful figure with more authority than most would realise. In the twenty-first century there are still a few prerogative powers, named “reserve powers,”#which can be utilised by the queen under her own will and judgement.

Prerogative powers

The royal assent is the most well known prerogative power of the queen. It is a constitutional convention that the queen should agree to give royal assent, by this it means whilst it is not official law that she must agree, it is expected of her and problems could rise if she did not agree, but in exceptional circumstances she can refuse. The Queen has not used this reserve power since 1708 where Queen Anne withheld royal assent from the Scottish Militia Bill 1708. In the modern day it is becoming more and more unlikely for the Queen to refuse the royal assent as it would create tension between the Queen and the government and generally cause political and social disruption which would not be beneficial to anyone.

The Queen also has the prerogative power to appoint a Prime Minister of her own choice. She could also choose to appoint nobody as Prime Minister as there is no legal requirement for a Prime Minister to even exist. Whilst this is the legal position of the appointment of a Prime Minister, the reality is of course different. “By convention, grounded in political necessity, she must appoint a man or woman who can form a government which will have the confidence of the House of Commons, has an indisputable claim to be appointed Prime Minister.”#

“The Queen has the prerogative power to dismiss ‘her’ ministers, single or...
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