Privy Council

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Privy Council

The Privy Council is the British Crown's private council. It is composed of more than three hundred members, including cabinet members, distinguished scholars, judges, and legislators. Once a powerful body, it has lost most of the judicial and political functions it exercised since the middle of the seventeenth century and has largely been replaced by the Cabinet.

The Privy Council derived from the King's Council, which was created during the Middle Ages. In 1540 the Privy Council came into being as a small executive committee that advised the king and administered the government. It advised the sovereign on affairs of state and the exercise of the royal prerogative. It implemented its power through royal proclamations, orders, instructions, and informal letters, and also by giving directions to and receiving reports from the judges who traveled the circuits, hearing cases in cities and towns, twice a year. It concerned itself with public order and security, the economy, public works, public authorities and corporations, local government, Ireland, the Channel Islands, the colonies, and foreign affairs.

The inner circle of advisers in the Privy Council met in the royal chamber or cabinet and was therefore called the cabinet council. In the eighteenth century, the cabinet became the council for the prime minister, the leader of Parliament. The United States adopted the cabinet idea, though its legal status is not identified in the Constitution. Cabinet members are presidential advisers who serve as Executive Branch department heads.

The power of the Privy Council disappeared between 1645 and 1660 during the English Civil War and the government of Oliver Cromwell. It never recovered its former position. Long policy debates shifted to Parliament, and important executive decisions went to committees. In modern days members of the Privy Council rarely meet as a group, delegating their work to committees.

The lord president of the council, who is a member of the cabinet, is the director of the Privy Council Office. The most important committee is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which comprises all members of the council who have held high judicial office. Usually, however, three to five Lords of Appeal sit to hear appeals from the United Kingdom, the British Crown colonies, and members of the Commonwealth. The committee does not give a judgment but prepares a report to the sovereign, and its decision may be implemented in an Order in Council. The work of the committee has diminished because it rarely hears ecclesiastical appeals and because many Commonwealth countries have abolished the right of appeal.

Further readings

Lehrfreund, Saul. 1999. "The Death Penalty and the Continuing Role of the Privy Council." New Law Journal (August 20).

Owen, D.H.O. 1992. "The Privy Council and the Professional Foul." Medico-Legal Journal 60 (spring).

Cross-references

Curia Regis.

See: bench

Privy Council (PC)

the great council of state comprising the sovereign and the councillors. Councillors are addressed as ‘The Right Honourable’. The cabinet discharges the advice function, and a judicial committee sits as the highest court of appeal for some Commonwealth states such as New Zealand and formerly for Canada and Australia. It now has power to adjudicate on certain aspects of devolution, notably under the Scotland Act 1998 and to declare legislation incompatible with the Human Rights Act 1998.

PRIVY COUNCIL, Eng. law. A council of state composed of the king and of such persons as he may select.

References in periodicals archive ?
In 1974 Folkestone introduces the Privy Councillor Guineas Trial Stakes and the first running, on April 3, is won by Wanlockhead, trained by Robert Armstrong and ridden by Lester Piggott.
(22) Charlotte Whitton, "The Right Honourable Margaret: The dramatic story of the Empire's First Woman Privy Councillor," The Chatelaine, Vol.
We see Huxley serving on numerous government commissions so that he could have a hand in the restructuring of scientific institutions; Huxley the president of the Royal Society who has the ear of prime ministers; and Huxley the Privy Councillor appointed in 1892.
In 1865 he was given the title of privy councillor, and in 1876 he was given a patent of nobility.
(11) Karl Tux (1716-1798), Privy Councillor in Stuttgart and a part-time mineral dealer.
John Prideaux's attack on Fort Niagara, as part of his assault on Montreal; occupied Montreal (September 8, 1760); governor-general of British North America (1760-1763); recalled to England for the failure of his Indian policies, which resulted in Pontiac's rebellion (May-November 1763); governor of Virginia and colonel of 60th Regiment of Foot (1768); governor of Guernsey (1770); privy councillor (1772); as commander in chief of the army (1778-1782, 1783-1795) he supported a hard-line policy toward the American colonies; Baron Amherst (1776); general (1778); suppressed the Gordon Riots (1780); resigned from his offices (1795) and was made a field marshal the following year; died in Kent (August 3, 1797).
Wolsey became Privy Councillor to Henry VIII in 1511 and was appointed Cardinal in 1515, the same year that he became Lord Chancellor.
She served as Labour MP for Wallsend and became the first woman cabinet minister and first woman privy councillor.
Jeremy might not choose to ask the Almighty to save her but he will have to become a privy councillor.
But then when I was being dragged off rugby and cricket pitches by the police after anti-apartheid disruptions of all-white South African teams, I never imagined being an MP still less a Privy Councillor either.
Mr Huhne resigned from the Cabinet when he was charged with perverting the course of justice, and later quit as a Liberal Democrat MP and privy councillor.
England's King Already known as - hold your breath now - His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Meirioneth, Baron Greenwich, Royal Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Grand Master and First and Principal Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire, Member of the Order of Merit, Companion of the Order of Australia, Extra Companion of the Queen's Service Order, Royal Chief of the Order of Logohu, Canadian Forces Decoration, Lord of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, Privy Councillor of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, and Personal Aide-de-Camp to Her Majesty, you'd have thought he had quite enough.