We have already argued that the ultimate
powers of sovereignty remain in the sole possession of
the monarch. Indeed, it is the unique covenant between
sovereign and people that stands as the bulwark
supporting our constitution and rights.
The sovereign is the court of last
resort, the only person who can stand finally between
the people and renegade politicians. Indeed, we would go
further. It is the sovereign’s sworn duty, as laid
down in Magna Carta (see above).
The Coronation Oath is a contract for
life between the sovereign and the nation. The original
form of the Oath was stated earlier in this document,
and still has the force of statute law. However, at the
coronations of both The Queen and her father George VI,
the words of the Oath were changed to meet the needs of
the Statute of Westminster, 1931, which granted autonomy
to the dominions. The words used at these coronations
did not have the force of statute law behind them,
having been merely agreed between the leaders of the
Church of England and the government of the day in each
case. Both oaths were illegal, as The Times
newspaper pointed out on both occasions. In any case,
Parliament has no power under the Bill of Rights to
interfere with the Coronation Oath as first enacted
during the reign of Charles II.
Despite the huge constitutional
issues raised by these events of 1937 and 1953, the
essential words in the Oath sworn by The Queen were:
"…to govern the peoples of the
United Kingdom…according to their laws and
She also swore to preserve for the
"all rights and privileges as by
law do or shall appertain to any of them."
The Coronation Oath is not a contract
between the sovereign and parliament. It is a contract
between the sovereign and each individual subject. It
cannot be broken by a vote in parliament. It can be
broken only by the sovereign or by the individual.
Like all contracts, if one party to
the contract believes the terms are at risk, the other
party can be called to account.
As we have indicated already, today
just as for nearly a thousand years, if an individual
believes his freedoms, rights and liberties are at risk,
the sovereign can be called upon to protect those rights
as promised in the contract.
Likewise, the sovereign can call
individuals to arms to protect the realm.
We know of two occasions in modern
times when the covenant between sovereign and subjects
first established in Magna Carta, and renewed in every
Coronation Oath since, has been put to the test by one
party to the contract or the other. Conveniently, the
two examples come from opposite sides of the covenant.
1975 - Australia. The Governor
General, acting on behalf of The Queen, dissolved the
Australian parliament and called new elections, when the
then government attempted to pass legislation which was
held to infringe the rights of all Australians.
1982 - Falklands. Sovereign’s call
to arms to prepare and despatch a task force to rescue
the Falkland Islanders whose rights and sovereignty were
threatened by war.
Actions of this kind enhance the
status and strength of the monarchy, and re-affirm to
the nation’s subjects that their rights and freedoms
are being preserved. They also demonstrate in a modern
context that Magna Carta and the Declaration of Rights
are alive and well.
The sovereign is the ultimate
protector of the nation and guarantor of the rights of
each individual, and those responsibilities are the
sovereign’s, and the sovereign’s alone.
At least one constitutional
commentator agrees with us:
"For parliament to develop or
improve on a fundamental right is one thing. But to
enact legislation which expressly removes an already
existing fundamental right, and to have that enactment
blindly upheld by a court, is quite another.
"If there is one thread which
runs through the whole turbulent history of British
constitutional development, it is the belief that we
(parliament and the courts) are the servants of
fundamental constitutional rules which were there before
us and will be there after we are gone."
The Courts and Parliament, 1979.