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    Wednesday, 15 March 2017

    Privy Council and its Functions under British Constitution

    1. Background
    The eclipse of the Privy Council as a practical instrument of government came with the development in the eighteenth century of the Cabinet as the policy making organ and advisory body of the Crown.

    2. The composition of the Privy Council
    The Lords, and other of Her Majesty's most Honorable Privy Council now about three hundred in numbers, consist Of persons who hold or have held high political or legal office, peers, Church dignitaries and persons- distinguished in the services and professions. They are appointed by letters patent, and include the Lord President of the Council, all Cabinet Ministers by convention, the two Archbishops by prescription, and customarily some of the leading Commonwealth statesmen, British Ambassadors, the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls, the President of the Family Division, and the Lords Justice of Appeal.

    3. Functions of the Privy Council

    The Privy Council became too unwieldy as an instrument of government Owing to the development of the Cabinet and government departments, the Council lost most of its advisory and administrative functions and are today little more than an organ for giving formal effect to certain acts done under prerogative or statutory powers.

    a. Proclamations and Orders in Council
    The most important acts done by Her Majesty "by and with the advice of her Privy Council" take the form of proclamations or Orders in Council, the former normally being authorized by the latter. Proclamations are employed for such matters as proroguing, dissolving and summoning Parliament and declaring war or peace solemn occasions requiring the widest publicity.

    b. Miscellaneous functions
    A Privy Council is also summoned for certain special occasions, such as the acceptance of office by newly appointed Ministers, and the annual "pricking of sheriffs on Mandy Thursday.

    c. Meetings of the Privy Council
    Privy Councilors are summoned to attend at Buckingham Palace, or wherever else the Sovereign may be. The, quorum is three. Usually four are summoned, being Ministers concerned with the business in hand.

    d. Committees of the Council

    Any meeting of Privy Councilors at which the Sovereign or Councilors of State are not present can only be a committee. Apart from the Judicial Committee; there are advisory or ad hoc committees concerned with such matters as scientific research and the grant of charters.

    e. Composition of the Judicial Committee
    The Judicial Committee Act 1833, passed "for the better administration of justice in His Majesty's Privy Council," constituted a Judicial Committee. The Judicial Committee Act 1844 authorized the Queen by Order in Council to admit any appeals to the Privy Council from any court within any 'British colony or possession abroad, even though such court might not be a court of error or of appeal.

    As a result of the Act of 1833 and various later statutes, the Judicial Committee is composed of:

    a. the Lord Chancellor; the Lord President and ex-Lord Presidents of the Council (who do not sits; the Lords of the Appeal in Ordinary; and the Lords Justices of Appeal (who seldom sit);

    (b) ex-Lord Chancellors and retired Lords of Appeal;

    (c) Selected senior judges or ex-judges of Australia, New Zealand and other Commonwealths countries from which appeal lies.

    f. The quorum is three
    The composition of the Judicial Committee is wider than that of the House of Lords sitting as a final court of appeal.

    g. Jurisdiction
    The Judicial Committee was given the jurisdiction of the Privy Council set out above, namely, appeals from the courts of the Channel Island, the isle of Man, the colonies and British India, and from the ecclesiastical courts and Admiralty Court, to which were later added appeals from prize courts.

    Appeals in probate, divorce and admiralty causes were later transferred to the House of Lords. The Judicial Committee also has a united appellate jurisdiction over the ecclesiastical courts of the Church of England.

    Modern statutes have given a right of appeal to the Judicial Committee-from the tribunals of various professional organizations having power to strike a member of the register.

    h. Procedure
    Rules of practice are made under the Act of 1833 appeals, or requests for leave to appeal, are commenced by petition to the Crown. Usually only one "judgment" is given by the Board. This is in theory a report made to Her Majesty of the reasons why judgment should be given in favor of a particular party; but the Committee is regarded for practical purposes a court, and the Queen is bound by convention to give effect to its advice, which is done by Order in Council. Indeed, the report is made public before it is sent up to the Sovereign in Council.

    i. Special reference

    Section 4 of the Judicial Committee Act 1833 provides that the Crown may refer to the Committee for an advisory opinion any matter it may think fit. In practice, references under this section are confined to justifiable matters.
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