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The Operation of the Royal Prerogative

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The monarch or Sovereign of the UK is referred to as the crown, who is the royal head of State as well as the Head of the church. One of the distinctive aspects about the Crown is the possession of royal prerogative powers. Up to the 17th century, it was the kings and queens who had absolute power, but after the English civil war and revolution of 1688, it was Parliament that was given dominion over the monarchy. But all Government actions are still taken under the name of the Crown and the prerogative refers, both historically and legally, to the power of the Crown. While in earlier years, prerogative power was vested only in the Crown, it is a controversial power in this day and age. When assessing the royal prerogative powers in conjunction with the uncodified nature of the U.K. Constitution, there exists considerable scope for abuse of executive power to take place, thereby contravening the principles of a democracy in which it is the people who are the ultimate source of power. The United Kingdom is a Constitutional monarchy, with executive power purportedly vested in the Crown. However, in reality, the business of Government is carried out by the Ministers of State in the name of the Crown. The Queen is still considered the Head of State in relation to foreign affairs and the power to summon and dissolve Parliament and the appointment of the Prime Minister are also residual legal powers that remain vested in the Crown1. While the United Kingdom does not have a formal written and codified Constitution, there is an unwritten set of rules comprised of the Acts of Parliament, judicial decisions as well as political practices that form the basis of Constitutional practice within the U.K2. The Royal Prerogative comprises those powers belonging to the Crown that arise out of the common law and are unique only to the Crown.