Royal Charters, granted by the Sovereign on the advice of the Privy Council, have a history dating back to the 13th century.
Their original purpose was to create public or private corporations (including towns and cities), and to define their privileges and purpose. Nowadays, though Charters are still occasionally granted to cities, new Charters are normally reserved for bodies that work in the public interest (such as professional institutions and charities) and which can demonstrate pre-eminence, stability and permanence in their particular field.
Many older universities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are also Chartered Bodies.
What is a Royal Charter?
A Royal Charter is an instrument of incorporation, granted by The King, which confers independent legal personality on an organisation and defines its objectives, constitution and powers to govern its own affairs. The terms of each Charter are therefore somewhat different, depending on the individual requirements of the type of organisation that is being incorporated.
What effect does ‘incorporation’ by Royal Charter have on a body?
Incorporation by Charter is a prestigious way of acquiring legal personality and reflects the high status of that body. The authority for the grant of a Charter comes from the Royal Prerogative, that is to say, the grant is made by the Sovereign (on the advice of the Privy Council).
An institution incorporated by Charter is, subject to the general law, generally self-regulating and not answerable to the Privy Council or the Privy Council Office in relation to the conduct of its internal affairs. The role of the Privy Council Office only extends to dealing with applications for new Charters and amendments to existing ones. In both cases, the work is instigated by the applicant or the Chartered body itself.
How many Chartered bodies are there?
In excess of 1000 Charters have been granted.
What is the history of incorporation by Charter?
Before the 19th century, the grant of a Charter of Incorporation was the principal method of creating separate legal personalities. By this means, universities, colleges, schools, municipalities, guilds and livery companies, a wide range of benevolent institutions and, with the development of trade, a growing number of joint stock companies were incorporated over a long period. Various criteria were applied over the years to such grants. When legislation was introduced in the 19th century facilitating the incorporation of commercial enterprises, and with the advent of charities legislation, the occasion for incorporation by the grant of a Charter became much reduced, and the grant of a Charter came to be seen more as a special token of Royal favour or as a mark of distinction.
As such, it came to be limited to bodies pre-eminent in their field and satisfying certain criteria, which varied according to the category in which the applicant fell, and since the 1950s one of these criteria has been that the petitioner shall exist not solely to advance the interests of its members but also, and primarily, to advance the public interest.
How does an organisation apply for a Royal Charter?
We offer Guidance on how to apply for a Charter on our website.
Does having a Royal Charter entitle an organisation to use the title ‘Royal’?
No. A Charter does not confer on an organisation the right to use Royal names and titles, including the title ‘Royal’.
Applications for the use of the title ‘Royal’ in a company or business name are considered by the Royal Names Team of the Constitution Group of the Cabinet Office. They can be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some Chartered organisations have, separately, applied for and been granted permission to use ‘Royal’ in their title, in addition to receiving a Charter.
How can a Chartered body amend its Charter?
Each Charter will normally specify the process the organisation needs to follow internally in order to apply for amendment to its Charter, Bye-Laws or Statutes. Amendments to Charters can be made only with the agreement of The King in Council, and amendments to the body’s Bye-laws or Statutes require the approval of the Privy Council (though not normally of His Majesty). This effectively means a degree of Government regulation of the affairs of the body, and the Privy Council will therefore wish to be satisfied that such regulation accords with public policy, and that there is some public benefit. Further guidance on how to amend a Charter can be found on our website.
Can a Chartered body register with Companies House?
Yes. Organisations incorporated by Charter are registered at Companies House, who allocate an identification number with the prefix ‘RC’. This is to distinguish them from the other bodies registered at Companies House which are incorporated under the various Companies Acts. Companies House require verification from the Privy Council Office before registering a Chartered body, and before altering an existing registration.
Why do some individuals call themselves ‘Chartered’?
The Charters of a number of bodies provide that individuals who meet certain criteria may use an individual Chartered title. Privy Council policy is that the criteria for individual Chartered Status should be broadly similar across the professions, e.g. Chartered Accountant, Chartered Engineer, Chartered Surveyor etc. Charters and Chartered titles have traditionally been linked to academic qualifications and most modern Chartered bodies that intend Individual Chartered status as a robust professional qualification set the entry level at Masters degree level (or equivalent in skills and experience) and re-evaluate holders on a regular basis to ensure continued professional competency and development, with only practicing professionals allowed to hold the designation.
Do all Chartered bodies have the power to award individual Chartered designations? e.g. Chartered Surveyor, Chartered Engineer, Chartered Banker
No, only certain Charters have within them the power to award Individual Chartered designations. The following is a list of designations approved by the Privy Council – please contact us if believe a designation is missing from the following list of Approved Charter Designations (PDF, 3 pages, 69kb).
What if an organisation is using a ‘Chartered’ designation that is not approved?
Individual Chartered designations that are not approved by The King in Council, or the Privy Council (and therefore to which there is no entitlement in the organisation’s Charter) are not recognised by the UK Government and no assurance can be given that such designations meet the same high standards as authorised designations.
Can I complain to the Privy Council about a Chartered Body?
The Privy Council does not have any kind of policing role in respect of Chartered bodies. The grant of a Charter gives a body the rights and powers of a natural person. The Privy Council cannot intervene in the internal affairs of Chartered bodies any more than it could intervene in the private affairs of a citizen. It follows that the Privy Council has no power to investigate, or even to take a view on, any matter of fact or law relating to a Chartered body; only the courts can do that. The only power that the Privy Council has in relation to Chartered bodies is the reactive one of considering changes to Charters and Bye-laws that are submitted to it for approval.
If you believe that a Chartered body is in breach either of its Charter or of the general law then the correct recourse is to the body itself, in the first instance, via the body’s own complaints procedure, details of which can usually be found on its website. If the body is a charity and your concerns relate to their charitable activities, then you could approach the Charity Commision for England and Wales, or the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator if the body is based in Scotland. If the work of the body is overseen by a Regulator, then you could complain to the Regulator (but usually only after you have exhausted the body’s own complaints process). If all else fails, then a remedy could be sought through the Courts.
How can a Royal Charter be revoked?
The Privy Council Office is unable to provide legal advice, and the following information should not be construed as such. The Privy Council Office is not aware of any Charter being revoked since the time of Charles II. Our understanding is that The Sovereign has no power to revoke a Charter at will, without the consent of the original grantees or their successors. In the absence of the consent of the grantee, it may be that the only way to revoke a Charter granted under the prerogative would be by primary legislation.
Separately, legal proceedings by way of Scire Facias (a writ requiring a person to show why a judgement regarding a record or patent should be enforced or annulled) could be brought by a third party in the administrative court. This is the only means by which a court may determine forfeiture of a Royal Charter. A Claimant would need to show some degree of interest in the proceedings to bring a claim, but the extent of this would depend on the circumstances. Where it is claimed that a Chartered body has acted in breach of a term of the Charter, the court has discretion to determine whether the Charter should be forfeited or not. Historically, there have been very few scire facias cases – the last one being in 1853.
Are Borough Charters different?
Yes. Whilst most Royal Charters are granted under the Royal Prerogative, Borough Charters are granted under statutory powers. Section 245 of the Local Government Act 1972 provides His Majesty in Council with the power to confer Borough Status on petitioning District Councils through the grant of a Charter. The Act provides that the District Council must resolve by not less than a two-thirds majority of those members voting in favour of a petition at a meeting of the council convened for the purpose before one can be presented. The conferring of Borough Status is purely honorific. The District Council becomes a Borough Council and as a result the District Council Chairman and Deputy Chairman may style themselves Mayor and Deputy Mayor. The change in status has no impact on the functions or responsibilities of the local authority.