We saw in Chapter 5 that constitutional law in the UK has no concept of the state as such and sometimes uses the notion of ‘the Crown’ as a substitute. The Crown is an ill-defined concept. The difficulty derives from the gradual evolution of the constitution from a position where the king or queen personally ran the government to one where the monarch exercises power only through others. Nevertheless, the fiction persists that this power is still monarchical. This provides a good illustration of how, in pursuing the illusion of continuity, our rulers may mystify and distort a relatively simple concept, that of a monarch, to fit contemporary concerns. The term ‘Queen’ is normally used to refer to the Queen acting personally, whereas the term ‘Crown’ is used as shorthand for the central executive branch of government, for example in ‘Crown property’ or ‘Crown immunity’. As head of state, the Queen has the undefined responsibility of being the ultimate guardian of the constitution. No minister appears to have this responsibility even though the Ministry of Justice, headed by the Lord Chancellor, is administratively responsible for constitutional matters. By convention the Queen must act on the advice of ministers, thereby separating the ‘dignified’ from the ‘efficient’ constitution and preventing the prime minister from pretensions to the role of head of state.
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