The Prerogative Powers of Governments

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We typically divide the modern state into three branches: the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. On a traditional view, the legislature makes the laws, the executive implements them, and the judiciary decides on disputes.

In reality, in most states, the executive in fact plays a much bigger role than that. It not only executes the will of the legislature, but also shapes the policy agenda, develops legislative proposals, and conducts a great deal of foreign policy.

And on some matters the executive can act without the consent of the legislature – even, in some cases, against its explicit opposition. Here in the UK, such powers are called prerogative powers, and they have been pretty controversial in recent years – relating, for example, to the government’s ability to suspend sittings of parliament. And they raised eyebrows in the United States too, when, on his first day in office, President Biden reversed a whole series of Trump-era policies just by signing a set of executive orders.

So what such prerogative powers exist? How do they work? And, in the context of modern democracy, should they be subject to greater constraints?

Host: Dr Alan Renwick

Professor Robert Hazell

34 episoder