How the Queen Plays a Part in our Legal System

From 2 to 5 June the Diamond Jubilee celebrations will take place to mark 60 years of the Queen’s reign. The Queen came to the throne on 6 February 1952, and her coronation took place on 2 June 1953. What better time to take a look at how the Queen is involved with our various laws?

The British Sovereign can be seen as having two roles: Head of State, in which the Queen undertakes constitutional and representational duties; and Head of the Nation, where her role is less formal but no less important for the social and cultural functions it fulfils.

As part of the Institute’s Legal Secretaries Diploma course, you will come across various aspects where these roles fit in. For example, when studying the English Legal System you will see that the Queen plays a part in State functions by opening Parliament, approving Orders in Council (delegated legislation), providing royal asset to Acts of Parliament and attending various meetings with the Prime Minister. Since 1952 the Queen has attended every opening of Parliament, except those in 1959 and 1963 when she was expecting Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, respectively, and has given Royal Assent to more than 3,500 Acts of Parliament.

Until the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (CRA 2005) Judges of the Court of Appeal and above were chosen by the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister acting on the advice of the Lord Chancellor. For High Court Judges and below, the Prime Minister played no role and the Queen was advised by the Lord Chancellor directly. However, section 61 CRA 2005 prescribes the creation of a Judicial Appointments Commission, which is now responsible for the appointment of judges for English and Welsh courts.

You will also note from the Land Law unit that since William the Conqueror obtained the Crown of England, all land is now owned by the Crown. We are granted an estate of land known as freehold.

In respect of criminal law, cases are brought in the name of the Crown and therefore cases are cited as R v the Defendant; R standing for Regina (the Queen) or Rex (the King). Furthermore, the Queen is also referred to in various statutes. For example, the classic definition of murder by Sir Edward Coke (Institutes of the Laws of England, 1797) is “Murder is when a man of sound memory, and of the age of discretion, unlawfully killeth within any country of the realm any reasonable creature in rerum natura under the King’s peace, with malice aforethought, either expressed by the party or implied by law, so as the party wounded, or hurt, etc., die of the wound or hurt, etc., within a year and a day after the same.” Under the Queen’s peace means that the killing of an enemy in the course of war will not be murder.

There have even been civil cases brought between two parties involving the coronation procession of a former King for a breach of contract. In Krell v Henry (1903) the defendant hired a room for the purpose of viewing the coronation procession; however, the procession was cancelled due to the King’s illness. The Court held that the contract was frustrated since the state of things going to the root of the contract, which was essential to its performance, had ceased to exist. However, in Herne Bay Steamboat Co. v Hutton (1903) a contract to charter the claimant’s ship was held not to be frustrated by the cancellation of the Naval Review. Since the purpose of the contract was to view the Naval Review and a day’s cruise, the contract had not been deprived of its sole commercial purpose, as it was still possible to perform the day’s cruise.

As a Secretary you may wish to note that the Queen has answered around three and a half million items of correspondence! The Queen recognises achievement and excellence and provides a focus for national identity and unity. She represents Britain to the rest of the world, and long may her reign continue.