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The Privy Council

The Privy Council is an institution that has played an important role in the governance of many countries throughout history.

Its origins can be traced back to the medieval period when it was established as a group of trusted advisors to the monarch.

Over time, the role and composition of the Privy Council have changed, but it remains an important institution today.

History of the Privy Council

The origins of the Privy Council can be traced back to the 13th century when it was established as a group of advisors to the English monarch. Its role was to provide advice on matters of state, and its membership was made up of senior nobles and bishops.

Over time, the Privy Council’s role expanded, and it became involved in the administration of justice and the governance of the country.

During the Tudor period, the Privy Council played an important role in the governance of England. It was responsible for enforcing royal policy, managing the economy, and overseeing the administration of justice. The Privy Council also had the power to make laws, and its decisions were binding.

In the 17th century, the Privy Council’s role changed once again. With the rise of Parliament, its power was reduced, and it became more of a ceremonial institution. However, it remained an important symbol of the monarch’s authority and continued to play a role in the governance of the country.

In the 19th century, the Privy Council’s role changed once again. With the growth of the British Empire, the Privy Council became responsible for overseeing the administration of justice in the colonies. It established the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which became the final court of appeal for many countries in the Commonwealth.

The Privy Council Today

Today, the Privy Council remains an important institution in many Commonwealth countries. Its role varies from country to country, but it continues to provide advice to the monarch and play a role in the governance of the country.

“These days, however, the Privy Council is simply the mechanism through which interdepartmental agreement is reached on those items of Government business which, for historical or other reasons, fall to Ministers as Privy Counsellors rather than as Departmental Ministers.

Although members of the Privy Council are appointed for life, only Ministers of the current Government participate in its day-to-day business and they are accountable to Parliament for all matters conducted through the Privy Council. The Ministerial head of the Privy Council Office is the Lord President of the Council.

Privy Council business falls into two main categories:

  • Prerogative business – where there is no legislation allocating the responsibility to a particular Minister, the Privy Council provides a mechanism for Ministerial advice to The King, since constitutionally The King acts only on such advice.
  • Statutory business – where an Act of Parliament has given order making powers to either the The King in Council (Orders in Council) or the Privy Council (Orders of Council).

“Prerogative” business taken through the Privy Council means, almost exclusively these days, the affairs of Chartered bodies; the 1000 or so institutions, charities and companies who are incorporated by Royal Charter. Most other historical prerogative powers have been taken over by Parliament, and the Privy Council is not involved for example in declarations of war or the prerogative of mercy.

The Privy Council also has an important part to play in respect of certain statutory regulatory bodies covering a number of professions including health, and in the world of higher education.

Orders “in” and “of” Council are no different from other forms of delegated legislation. Where they are statutory they will usually involve a Parliamentary procedure. Where they are prerogative they will usually be of no particular public interest, other than to the bodies to which they refer.

The details of its past meetings are published on the Privy Council website, along with all Orders “in”, and Orders “of”, Council.

The Rt Hon Penny Mordaunt was appointed as Lord President of the Council in September 2022.

The Privy Council

Origins of the Word Privy

The word “privy” comes from the Latin word “privatus,” which means “private.” In medieval times, a privy council was a group of advisors who were chosen by the monarch to provide private counsel.

The word “privy” also has a connection to the word “privacy,” which suggests that the council’s discussions were confidential and private.

There is also the noun privy which is an outdoor toilet, typically a small shed with a bench with a hole over a pit.

The word “privy” as a toilet can be traced back to Middle English, where it was originally used to refer to a private room or chamber. Over time, the term came to be associated specifically with a small, enclosed room that was used as a toilet.

In medieval times, people often used chamber pots or simply relieved themselves in the open air. But as cities grew more crowded and sanitation became a concern, some households began to construct small, enclosed rooms that could be used as a private toilet. These rooms were often located in a separate building outside the main house, and they were known as “privies.”

As indoor plumbing became more common in the 19th and 20th centuries, the use of outdoor privies declined. However, the term “privy” has persisted as a somewhat old-fashioned way of referring to an outdoor toilet or outhouse.

The Full Title of the Privy Council

The full title of the Privy Council is the “Most Honourable Privy Council.” This title reflects the council’s importance and status as a symbol of the monarch’s authority.

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) is an important institution that has played a key role in the administration of justice in many Commonwealth countries. It was established in the 19th century to provide a final court of appeal for the colonies.

The Judicial Committee is made up of judges who are appointed by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister. Its decisions are binding and cannot be appealed, and it has the power to hear cases from any country in the Commonwealth.

Today, the Judicial Committee continues to hear cases from many Commonwealth countries, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Its decisions have played an important role in the development of the law in these countries.

Commonwealth Countries and the Privy Council

The Privy Council continues to play a role in the governance of many Commonwealth countries. Its role varies from country to country, but it remains an important institution in many places.

In the United Kingdom, the Privy Council provides advice to the monarch on matters of state, and its members are appointed by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Privy Council also has the power to make laws, and its decisions are binding.

In Canada, the Privy Council is a group of advisors to the Governor General, who acts as the King’s representative. Its role is to provide advice on matters of state, and its members are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister.

In Australia, the Privy Council no longer plays a role in the governance of the country. In 1986, the country abolished appeals to the Privy Council and established the High Court of Australia as the final court of appeal.

In New Zealand, the Privy Council was the final court of appeal until 2004 when the country established the Supreme Court of New Zealand. Today, the Privy Council no longer plays a role in the governance of New Zealand.

In many other Commonwealth countries, the Privy Council continues to play a role in the administration of justice. Its decisions have had a significant impact on the development of the law in these countries, and its role as a symbol of the monarch’s authority remains an important part of their constitutional systems.

Conclusion

The Privy Council is an institution that has played an important role in the governance of many countries throughout history. Its origins can be traced back to the medieval period, and it has evolved over time to reflect changing political and social conditions.

Today, the Privy Council remains an important institution in many Commonwealth countries, providing advice to the monarch and playing a role in the administration of justice.

Its role varies from country to country, but it remains an important symbol of the monarch’s authority and a key part of the constitutional system.

Check out our articles on His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), the highly questionable Sussex Family Justice Board and the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.

Read our review of Gavin Howe Barrister

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By Dom Watts

Dom Watts is the founder of the Ministry of Injustice. Dom has no legal training and is not a lawyer. You can find Dom on X or Google.

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