Order in Council

Order in Council

An Order in Council is a type of legislation in many countries, typically those in the Commonwealth of Nations. In the United Kingdom this legislation is formally made in the name of the Queen by the Privy Council (Queen-in-Council), but in other countries the terminology may vary.



Although the Orders are nominally made by the Queen, in practice, royal assent is a formality only. What actually happens is that a representative of the government (generally a cabinet minister or the Lord President of the Council) reads out batches of Orders in Council drafted by the government in front of the Queen, who, after every couple of orders, says 'Approved'. They then pass into law, and come into effect. However several instances have been recorded where a governor has questioned the technical basis of a proposed regulation, refused assent, and the order has been returned to the relevant department for revision.

Types, usage and terminology

Two principal types of Order in Council exist: Orders in Council whereby the Queen-in-Council exercises the Royal Prerogative, and Orders in Council made in accordance with an Act of Parliament.[1]

In the United Kingdom orders are formally made in the name of the Queen by the Privy Council (Queen-in-Council). In Canada they are made in the name of the Governor General by the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and in other places in name of the governor by the Executive Council (Governor-in-Council, Governor-General-in-Council etc.) In New Zealand, the Orders in Council are required to give effect to the Government’s decisions. Apart from Acts of parliament, Orders in Council are the main method by which the government implements decisions that need legal force.

Prerogative Orders

An Order in Council made under the Royal Prerogative is primary legislation, and does not depend on any statute for its authority, although it may be overridden by an Act of Parliament.[2] This type has become less common with the passage of time, as statutes encroach on areas which used to form part of the Royal Prerogative.

Matters which still fall within the Royal Prerogative, and hence are regulated by (Prerogative) Orders in Council, include dealing with servants of the Crown, such as the standing orders for civil servants, appointing heads of Crown corporations, governance of British Overseas Territories, making appointments in the Church of England and dealing with international relations.

Traditionally, Orders in Council are used as a way for the Prime Minister to make political appointments, but they can also be used to issue simple laws as a sort of decree. Often in times of emergency, a government may issue legislation directly through Orders in Council, forgoing the usual parliamentary procedure[3][4] though most Orders of this sort are eventually formalized according to the traditional lawmaking process, if they are not revoked at the end of the emergency. However this power was later superseded by a statutory power to make such Orders in Council under the Civil Contingencies Act.

British Orders in Council may occasionally be used to effectively reverse court decisions applicable to British Overseas Territories without involving Parliament. Within the United Kingdom itself, court decisions can be formally overruled only by an Act of Parliament, or by the decision of a higher court on appeal.

In the rest of the Commonwealth they are used to carry out any decisions made by the Cabinet and the executive that would not need to be approved by Parliament.

Orders in Council as Statutory Instruments

In this second case, an Order in Council is merely another form of Statutory Instrument (in the UK, regulated by the Statutory Instruments Act 1946), albeit subject to more formalities than a simple statutory instrument. This kind of Order in Council tends to be reserved for the most important pieces of subordinate legislation, and its use is likely to become more common.[citation needed] Like all statutory instruments, they may simply be required to be laid before both Houses of Parliament, or, they may be annulled in pursuance of a resolution of either the lower House (House of Commons in the UK and Canada or House of Representatives in the other realms), or the upper House (House of Lords in the UK or Senate in other realms) ('negative resolution procedure'), or require to be approved by a resolution of either House, or, exceptionally, both ('affirmative resolution procedure'). That said, the use of Orders in Council has been extended recently, as the Scotland Act 1998 provides that draft Orders in Council may be laid before the Scottish Parliament in certain circumstances in the same way as they would have been laid before the Westminster Parliament. From 2007, legislation put before the Welsh Assembly will be enacted through Orders in Council after following the affirmative resolution procedure.

An Order in Council of this type usually has the following form: "Her Majesty, in pursuance of [relevant section of primary legislation], is pleased, by and with the advice of Her Privy Council, to order, and it is hereby ordered, as follows:"

For much of the period from 1972 to 2007 much Northern Ireland legislation was made by Order-in-Council. This was done under the various Northern Ireland Acts 1974 to 2000, and not by virtue of the Royal Prerogative.

Under the Government of Wales Act 2006, Royal Assent to Measures of the National Assembly for Wales is given by Order-in-Council, but this is not done by Statutory Instrument but in a form similar to that of a prerogative Order.[5]

Controversial uses


Orders in Council were used to re-classify certain types of firearms as restricted or prohibited despite those firearms actually meeting the criteria for non-restricted status as per the Firearms Act.

After the British Empire entered World War I on the Allied side, an Order in Council was made in Canada for the registration, and in certain cases for the internment, of aliens of "enemy nationality". Between 1914 and 1920, 8,579 "enemy aliens" were detained in internment camps.[6]

An Order in Council made by the Brian Mulroney government on 21 November 1988 created AMEX Bank of Canada, a Canadian banking subsidiary of American Express, although federal banking policy at the time would not ordinarily have permitted such an establishment by a foreign company.[7] In July 2004 and August 30, 2006, Orders in Council were used to deny a passport to Abdurahman Khadr, a member of the infamous Khadr family, and who had previously been held in detention by the United States at Guantanamo Bay.

United Kingdom

Orders in Council were controversially used in 2004 to overturn a court ruling in the United Kingdom which held that the exile of the Chagossian islanders from the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) was unlawful. However, the High Court, in 2006, held that these Orders in Council were unlawful, saying "The suggestion that a minister can, through the means of an order in council, exile a whole population from a British Overseas Territory and claim that he is doing so for the 'peace, order and good government' of the territory is to us repugnant."[8] The UK government's appeal failed, with the Court of Appeal holding that the decision had been unlawfully taken by a government minister "acting without any constraint".[9] However the government successfully appealed to the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords who overturned the High Court and Court of Appeal decisions.[10] The House of Lords decided [11] that the validity of an order in council made under the prerogative legislating for a colony was amenable to judicial review (see paragraph 35 of the decision). Further that it was not for the courts to substitute their judgement for that of the Secretary of State as to what was conducive to the peace, order and good government of BIOT. Nor were the orders Wednesbury unreasonable on the facts given the considerations of security and cost of resettlement. Further, none of the orders were open to challenge in the British courts on the ground of repugnancy to any fundamental principle relating to the rights of abode of the Chagossians in the Chagos Islands.

See also


  1. ^ "Draft Cabinet Manual, para 32". Cabinet Office. December 2010. http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/sites/default/files/resources/cabinet-draft-manual.pdf. Retrieved 31 December 2010. 
  2. ^ Council of Civil Service Unions v. Minister for the Civil Service [1985] 374 at 399, per Lord Fraser of Tullybelton
  3. ^ Home defence and emergency planning 1972-2001, The National Archives, November 2005, p. 11, http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documents/osp14.pdf, retrieved 2008-11-20 
  4. ^ Historical use: see Orders in Council (1807)
  5. ^ For example, the Order approving the NHS Redress (Wales) Measure 2008
  6. ^ Luciuk, Lubomyr; A Time for Atonement; The Limestone Press, 1988
  7. ^ Newman, Peter C. (July 30, 1990). "The brash new kid on the block. (American Express Co. opens Amex Bank of Canada amid controversy)"(column). Maclean's, July 30, 1990 v103 n31 p33(1)
  8. ^ Britain shamed as exiles of the Chagos Islands win the right to go home, Neil Tweedie, The Daily Telegraph, 12 May 2006. URL accessed 17 December 2006.
  9. ^ Chagos families win legal battle, BBC, 23 May 2007
  10. ^ BBC News: Chagos exiles ruling overturned 22 October 2008
  11. ^ R (Bancoult) v Secretary of State For Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs [2008] UKHL 61

External links

Works related to Canadian Orders-in-Council at Wikisource

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • order in council — In Britain, a regulation traditionally issued by the sovereign on the advice of the Privy Council. In modern practice, an order is issued only on the advice of ministers, and the minister in charge of the department concerned with the order s… …   Universalium

  • order-in-council — noun In some Commonwealth parliamentary systems, a legally enforceable decree by the executive branch of a government. Ontarios ninth statutory holiday was approved with an order in council. . . . The document needs only to have two cabinet… …   Wiktionary

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  • order-in-council — /ɔdər ɪn ˈkaʊnsəl/ (say awduhr in kownsuhl) noun (plural orders in council) 1. (in Australia) an official order, proclamation, etc., approved by the governor general or by a state governor on the advice of the Executive Council and published in… …   Australian-English dictionary

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