Legal process: Freedom of Information request reveals Royal Assent protocols

Legal process: Freedom of Information request reveals Royal Assent protocols

The details of the process by which British laws gain royal approval have been revealed after a long-fought Freedom of Information Act request was finally granted, despite considerable attempts by the Government to block their publication.

The disclosures were first published in The Guardian.

The process of Royal Assent has existed for almost a thousand years; however, since 11 March 1708 no monarch has refused to give their assent for a bill approved by Parliament, leading to the impression that Royal Assent is simply a ‘rubber stamp’ to the wishes of Parliament.

The latest disclosure shows that the Queen and heir Prince Charles have been consulted on legislative matters, including ID cards, changes to paternity pay and the reform of higher education. The document also shows that in some cases the royals have been asked for specific approval including in matters relating to Crown interests and the Duchy of Cornwall.

The Freedom of Information Act request shows that the Queen approved changes to child welfare in 2007, National Insurance in 2004 and paternity pay in 2006. In each case the move to seek specific royal approval was justified because the changes would affect the royal household.

The legislation permitting civil partnerships was also put before the Queen, as in her role as head of the Church of England the changes were likely to “bind her”.

One of the more shocking revelations is that the Queen did not give her consent to a Bill in 1999 that would have seen the power to declare war transferred from the monarch to Parliament. The Private Members Bill did not have government support at the time and therefore would not have become law anyway; however, it shows that the Queen does play an active role when asked to approve new laws.

The solicitor who made the Freedom of Information Act request is John Kirkhope; he expressed his surprise at the level of royal involvement.

“It is a small number of bills but I find it extraordinary that they have been consulted on things like National Insurance and children’s rights,” he said.

Buckingham Palace said it was a longstanding convention that the monarch of the day offer formal consent for any bill that affects the interests of the Crown.


Royal ‘consent’ to laws revealed after FOI battle (BBC News)

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