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The Selden Society and Four Inns of Court Annual Legal History Lecture 1 Nov 2022

1622 The King's Prerogative - 2022 The Prime Minister's Prerogative

The Rt. Hon. the Lord Judge of Draycote will examine the constitutional struggles in the early part of the 17th Century and will suggest that there are a number of disturbing parallels today.

He will argue that, notwithstanding the sovereignty of Parliament, the steady accumulation and use of political and prerogative powers by recent Prime Ministers would have delighted the early Stuart kings and confounded Parliamentarians like Edward Coke and John Selden.

In 1622 James I dissolved Parliament, asserting by proclamation that the Commons had taken “inordinate liberties with our high prerogative“. In 2022, the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act was enacted. Its asserted purpose was the restoration of the prerogative power to dissolve Parliament. Speaking in support of an amendment to the Bill (later rejected by the Commons) that the dissolution process should require the agreement of a majority in the Commons, Lord Judge said: "We have become habituated - have we not? - to the steady, apparently unstoppable accumulation of power in No 10 Downing Street, and we have done so while simultaneously the authority and weight of Parliament itself, and the House of Commons in particular, have been diminishing. It is astonishing to think that we are now proposing to resurrect the medieval concept of the prerogative, the concept on which the divine right of kings was based. King James and King Charles, just across the road, will be laughing as they turn in their graves." In and around 1622 the early Stuart kings asserted the divine right of kings and the dispensability of Parliament. Over the centuries the sovereignty of Parliament has triumphed as the fundamental principle of our unwritten constitution.