orders in council, in British government, orders given by the sovereign on the advice of all or some of the members of the privy council, without the prior consent of Parliament. Orders in council, first so named in the 18th cent., are based either on royal prerogative or on statutory authority. The prerogative allows an order in council to be used to ratify a treaty, to declare the end of a state of war, or to appoint civil service commissioners, but as a vehicle of royal power such an order no longer has any utility. Orders in council are authorized by statute in situations where a possible emergency is contemplated in which routine legislative procedure might be too cumbersome. The order is recommended to the sovereign by the government official responsible, and there is generally a provision for subsequent parliamentary ratification. The most important use of this administrative device has been in time of war. The economic blockade of European ports during the Napoleonic Wars was accomplished by means of orders in council, and they were also used in World Wars I and II, particularly in reference to foreign trade and domestic economic regulation. Among possible current uses are the declaration of a state of emergency, the dissolution of government departments and the redistribution of governmental functions, and the issuance of an extradition order. The term is also used in some Commonwealth countries to refer to an order that is signed by the governor-general after recommendation by cabinet or committee, without having been discussed by Parliament.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.