Pre-University (CIE) Comparative Government: Specimen Questions with Answers 2 - 2 of 53

Question 2

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‘The King can do no wrong”. Discuss this in reference to UK constitution.

Explanation

  • An important maxim on which the British constitutional structure rests is “the king can do no wrong”. This implies that the king is above law and cannot be tried in any court of England for any wrongful act done by him. For example, if the king commits any crime, there is no process known to English law by which he can be brought to trial. This maxim ensures complete personal immunity to the king from the jurisdiction of ordinary courts of law. This also means that the king is above all the responsible for the acts done in his name. No person can plead the orders of the king in the defense of any wrongful act done by him. The king cannot authorize any person to do an illegal act. If any officer commits any crime under the orders of the king it is the officer who will be held responsible and punished off by the courts of England for such an offence. This was clarified in the Earl of Danby’s case of 1679 who was impeached by the parliament for “high treason and diverse high crimes and misdemeanors”. Danby pleaded that whatever he had done was by order of the king. He even produced the royal pardon for the alleged offence. Parliament held Danby’s plea illegal and void and laid down that “the minister cannot plead the command of the king to justify an unconstitutional act”.

  • To quote another example to justify this maxim we can take the example of what a courtiers of Charles II wrote on the door of the royal bed chamber:

    • Here lies our sovereign lord the king.

    • Whose word no man relies on;

    • Who never says foolish things,

    • Nor ever does a wise one.

  • This inscription truly represented the maxim “the king can do no wrong” because Charles replied to this inscription that in as much as his sayings were his own, his acts were the acts of his ministers. The king assumes no responsibility for his participation in the administration of the country.

  • One meaning can also be infer of the maxim that for all intents and purposes it is the minister in charge who is legally responsible for every act of the British government performed in the name of the king. This is why every order issued by the king is countersigned by the minister in charge who is politically responsible to the parliament and is legally responsible to the court of law. Without the countersignature of the minister concerned no law possess any validity in England and, therefore cannot be applied in any court.

  • It is because of this fact that the speech, which the king delivers from the throne at the opening session of parliament is the handiwork of the cabinet ministers. Even his tour programmes are decided by the cabinet. Though the king has long ceased to exercise power rested in him, it would be erroneous however, to conclude that he does not exercise influence on the government. He personally performs certain definite acts.

  • He receives foreign ambassadors, reads the speech from the throne, assents to the election of a speaker by the House of Commons, dissolves the parliament and elects the prime minister. The king because of his long continuity in his office and the consequent experience he acquires thereof, can very well discharge the role of general counselor. In the words of Bagehot, the king has three right- right to be consulted, the right to encourage and right to warn. The kings provides a symbol of imperial unity.

  • He is the mysterious link, which unites loosely bound but strongly interwoven Commonwealth of Nations, states and races. it can be said that “he is the umpire who sees that the great game of politics is played according to the rules”. Thus we can say that there is the royal influence of the king, he furnishes the leadership for British nations.

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