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Privy Council

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Privy Council
In British politics, the Privy Council, formally known as Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, is a largely ceremonial council of personal advisers to the Sovereign.

Table of contents
1 Role
2 Membership
3 History
4 Spelling
5 Other Privy Councils around the world
6 See also
7 External links


Today the functions of the Privy Council as affect the United Kingdom are largely but not exclusively ceremonial. However its functions can be far-reaching and, on occasion, controversial.

The Privy Council exercises judicial authority through the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which functions as one of the highest courts in the United Kingdom (on the same level as the House of Lords, though with more limited scope), and also acts as the highest court for several other countries around the world which still provide for appeals to The Queen in Council or to the Judicial Committee directly.

The Privy Council exercises executive authority by means of Order-in-Council, a type of Statutory Instrument. In theory, these are made by the Monarch after consulting the Council; in practice, however, they originate with government ministers, the Monarch and the Privy Council being a mere rubberstamp, with Privy Council meetings involving the assembly of the Monarch and a few Privy Counsellors in whatever Royal Residence the monarch is at that time residing in. The Lord President of the Council reads out a list of Orders-in-Council. After a number, the Queen says simply 'Agreed', validating the Orders. Some Privy Council meetings run for as short as five minutes; meetings are rarely long since they are held standing up. If the monarch cannot be present for a meeting of the Council, then Counsellors of State take the place of the monarch. Counsellors of State are close relatives of the monarch who are empowered to fulfil the functions of the monarch under certain circumstances. Two or more Counsellors of State are required to be present for them to act with the same authority as the monarch. Technically, the British cabinet is a committee of the Privy Council, hence the appointment of new cabinet ministers to the Council. Administrative services for the Privy Council are carried out by the Privy Council Office.

The Privy Council is also responsible for issuing and amending Royal Charters. This includes the granting of degree-awarding powers and university status to higher education institutions, on the recommendation of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

Full meetings of the Privy Council occur only on the death of a monarch and the accession of a new monarch, when the Council issues a proclamation of the accession and announces the name of the new Sovereign.


Membership is for life, although a person can be removed by the Sovereign from the Privy Council. There are currently over 500 members. Various groups are invariably appointed to the Council. These include:

Current Privy Counsellors include: For a full list of Privy Counsellors, see List of members of the Privy Council.

As Privy Counsellors, they are styled "The Right Honourable" (or "The Rt Hon.") and have priority speaking status in parliament. (It should be noted that some people who are not Privy Counsellors may also be known as "The Right Honourable" as a result of their offices, e.g. Earls, Viscounts, Barons, the Prime Minister and Chief Justice of Canada, and Lords Mayors and Lord Provosts of some of the major cities in Great Britain, Ireland and Australia.)

Generally, the post-nominal "PC" is not appended to the name - "Right Honourable" being sufficient identification as a Privy Counsellor - unless the individual in question is a peer, who are already Right Honourable, if not higher. (Peers of the degree of Marquess and Duke who are named to the Privy Council retain their higher styles rather than "Right Honourable").

In addition, although the Privy Council is a United Kingdom institution, the prime ministers and one or two ministers of some Commonwealth countries, most notably New Zealand, are always appointed to the Privy Council. Canada has its own Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Australia ceased to recommend Privy Counsellors in the 1980s.

Membership of the Privy Council also enables senior opposition figures to get confidential briefings on matters of major public concern or security.

The Lord President of the Council functions as Visitor to several English universities, and as such can hear appeals from students against the university authorities. The Lord President is a Government minister, usually in recent years the Leader of the House of Commons; however, from July 2003 the Lord President was the Leader of the House of Lords.


The Privy Council was preceeded by a number of other bodies that can be traced back at least as far as 1649.

With peace in England at least, following the end of the English Civil War, on Februay 13 1649 the Council of State was created with a membership of 41, sitting at the Palace of Whitehall. This was disbanded by Oliver Cromwell when he became effectively a military dictator in 1653, and replaced by the 15 strong Protector's Council after he took the title Lord Protector. This was retitled as the first Privy Council (in 1656?), after which its composition and name alternated between the two names (even being suspended in 1659 in favour of a Committee of Safety) until finally remaining the Privy Council.


Both "Privy Counsellor" and "Privy Councillor" are correct. However, the former is officially preferred by the Privy Council Office in London, while the latter is the spelling used in the Canadian Constitution Act 1867 in relation to the Queen's Privy Council for Canada.

Other Privy Councils around the world

Other countries have or have had privy councils. Denmark's and Norway's Privy Councils still function as part of the constitutional structures of the two kingdoms. Sweden's Privy Council, in contrast, was abolished as part of the reorganisation of the structures of government in the 1974 Instrument of Government (i.e., constitution dealing with the structures of government). Ireland's Privy Council ceased to exist when the Irish Free State came into existence in 1922. The Privy Council of Northern Ireland, which succeeded it, went into abeyance upon the dissolution of the Parliament of Northern Ireland and the imposition of direct rule.

See also

External links