Royal prerogative of mercy

"Prerogative of mercy" redirects here. For the prerogative in Rwanda, see Prerogative of mercy (Rwanda).
"Royal pardon" redirects here. For pardons worldwide and in general, see Pardon.

In the English and British tradition, the royal prerogative of mercy is one of the historic royal prerogatives of the British monarch, in which he or she can grant pardons (informally known as a royal pardon) to convicted persons. The royal prerogative of mercy was originally used to permit the monarch to withdraw death sentences, but is now used to change any sentence or penalty.[1]

Officially, this is a power of the monarch. Formally, in Commonwealth realms, this has been delegated to the Governor-General of the realm, which in practice means to government ministers who advise the monarch or viceroy, usually those responsible for justice. Specifically, it has been delegated to the Lord Chancellor in England and Wales; the Scottish Ministers in Scotland; the federal cabinet in Canada;[2] the Minister of Justice in New Zealand;[1] and the Attorney-General or Minister for Justice in Australia.[3]

In the important case of Derek Bentley, a court found that this royal prerogative power is "probably" entirely a matter of policy, and thus not justiciable.[4]

The royal pardon can be contrasted with the statutory pardon, which is a pardon issued through an Act of Parliament or an Order-in-Council. The statutory pardon is preferred in most cases. In the United Kingdom, only four royal pardons have been granted since the end of World War II.


In 2001 two inmates at HMP Prescoed, south Wales, received early release under the Royal prerogative of mercy when they saved the life of the manager of the prison farm when he was attacked and gored by a captive wild boar.[5]

In 2013 a posthumous pardon was awarded to Alan Turing under the Royal prerogative of mercy. Wartime codebreaker Turing had been convicted of gross indecency in 1952.[6]

See also


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