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Privy Council

In English law and politics, the Privy Council originated as a council of personal advisers to the Monarch.

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Today its functions are largely but not exclusively ceremonial, although its Judicial Committee functions as one of the highest courts in the United Kingdom, and also acts as the highest court for several other countries around the world which still provide for 'appeals to the Privy Council'.

The Privy Council exercises executive authority through the means of Orders 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 Councillors 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. Technically, the British cabinet is a committee of the Privy Council, hence the appointment of new cabinet ministers to the Council.

Accession Privy Council meetings occur following the death of a monarch, at which his or her successor reveals the name by which they will be be known. The Privy Council is also responsible for issuing and amending Royal Charters.


Various groups hold membership. Some senior peers are automatically members, by virtue of title. Senior churchmen also are appointed, often ex-officio when they assume a particular bishopric. Senior members of the Royal Family are also members. All senior government ministers of cabinet or high non-cabinet rank are appointed members of the Privy Council, an office they retain even after the end of their ministership. As Privy Councillors, they are styled the 'Right Honourable' (or Rt. Hon.) and have priority speaking status in parliament.

The Leader of the Opposition and other senior leaders of recognised parties (i.e., those with sufficient MPs to be recognised as a unit for parliamentary speaking time) are appointed to the Privy Council by the Sovereign on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Current senior Privy Councillors include:

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 Privy Council functions as Visitor[?] for 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.

Membership is for life, unless a person is removed by the Sovereign from the Privy Council.

Other Privy Councils Around the World

Other countries have or have had privy councils. Norway's Privy Council still functions as part of the constitutional structures of the kingdom. 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. However the style Rt. Hon. is still used by the Lord Mayor of Dublin.

External Links

See British Privy Council Website: http://www.privy-council.org.uk

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