5. The monarch and the Crown

The British constitution is monarchical, rather than republican, in the sense that the UK’s head of state is the monarch, King Charles III since 8 September 2022.  It follows, for example, that:

  • the Government is His Majesty’s Government,
  • sovereignty is attributed to the King in Parliament,
  • the King is commander of military forces,
  • taxes are collected in the name of the King, by His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), and
  • the courts are the King’s courts and prosecutions are brought in the King’s name, by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), hence prosecutions are titled, R v Smith, with R standing for Rex, the King.

But these distinctions are apt to mislead because the monarch nowadays has few personal powers.  Although he reigns he no longer rules.  Powers that were once exercised by the Crown, such as devising and passing laws, have been eroded over several centuries by constitutional conventions and acts of parliament.  Accordingly, rights and powers that were once exercised personally by the monarch are now vested in the Crown, an institution, rather than a living tangible person.  They are exercised in the name of the King, rather than by the King.  This distinction is reflected in the maxim of the British Constitution that ‘The King is dead; long live the King’.  This announcement, made when a monarch dies, means that although the person may die, the institution does not.  When a monarch dies his/her heir succeeds immediately, although by convention this will be proclaimed by an Accession Council composed of Privy Councillors and other leading citizens.