Mitting J set out the background to Royal Charters: ‘This is, I believe, the first time that the grant or refusal of a Royal Charter has been the subject of litigation. I propose, therefore, to begin by a brief analysis of the history and nature of Royal Charters and the process by which they are granted. A Royal Charter is granted in the exercise of prerogative powers -‘the residue of discretionary or arbitrary authority, which at any given time is legally left in the hands of the crown’: Dicey, The Law of the Constitution page 424. It has the essential qualities of an executive, rather than legislative act, and is ‘best not described as legislation’: Craies on Legislation 10th edition paragraph 3.7.8. Its original purpose was to grant corporate personality to bodies of persons conducting activities for public or private benefit. The first Royal Charter in the first category was granted to the University of Cambridge in 1231 and the second to the Sadlers Company in 1272. Numerous grants have been made to educational institutions and livery companies ever since. The first grant of a Royal Charter to a group of persons carrying on a profession was to the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1518. At the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries, Royal Charters were granted to institutions which played a major part in the economic life of the country, notably the Bank of England in 1694 and the South Sea Company in 1711. The puncturing of the South Sea bubble in 1720 caused Parliament to prohibit the formation of joint stock companies except by Royal Charter in the Bubble Act 1720. Thereafter until the early 19th century, the grant of Royal Charters in the economic field was limited to a small number of banks and insurance companies. Between the enactment of the Chartered Companies Act 1837 and the Limited Liability Act 1955, the grant of a Royal Charter was the principle means by which economic activity could be carried on by an incorporated body without putting at risk the entire assets of those who’ve subscribed capital to it. In consequence, a large number of trading and mining companies were incorporated by Royal Charter between those dates. Few were afterwards. From then on, the great majority of bodies incorporated by Royal charter have been educational, charitable or professional. Lord Diplock was not quite right when he identified this function of the Privy Council as ‘the grant of corporate personality to deserving bodies of persons’ in Council of Civil Service Unions v Minister for the Civil Service (1985) AC 374 at 410B, because almost all of the grantees have already been incorporated under legislative provisions. Grants are still made to un-incorporated groups of persons – for example livery companies and, in 2012, Marylebone Cricket Club – but current practice is accurately stated by the Privy Council on its website: ‘new grants of Royal Charter are these days reserved from imminent professional bodies or charities which have a solid record of achievement and are financially sound.
An organisation seeking the grant of a Royal Charter must petition Her Majesty the Queen in Counsel. On its website, the Privy Council office invites informal approaches before a petition is lodged, to afford that office the opportunity of giving advice about the chances of success. Petitioners are advised to take soundings amongst other bodies which may have an interest in the outcome. Once a formal petition has been lodged, it is advertised in the London Gazette. Any objector is entitled within six weeks to lodge a counter-petition. The petition is considered by a sub-committee of the Privy Council, comprising ministers of the departments most closely connected with the activities of the petitioner. Unanimity amongst the members of the committee is required before a recommendation for the grant of a Royal Charter will be made.
A petitioner is required to submit a draft of its charter and by-laws. Both must be approved by the Attorney General. Once a Royal Charter is granted, the Charter and by-laws cannot be amended without the consent of the Privy Council.’
 EWHC 2438 (Admin)
England and Wales
Cited – Council of Civil Service Unions v Minister for the Civil Service HL 22-Nov-1984
The House considered an executive decision made pursuant to powers conferred by a prerogative order. The Minister had ordered employees at GCHQ not to be members of trades unions.
Held: The exercise of a prerogative power of a public nature . .
Cited – English Bridge Union Ltd, Regina (on The Application of) v The English Sports Council and Others Admn 15-Oct-2015
The claimant Union claimed that the defendant should recognise the game of bridge as a sport. The defendant had adopted a definition from Europe which required physical activity, and the Union said that this was a misconstruction of its Royal . .
These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 26 December 2020; Ref: scu.534428