Royal Charters in the modern world

charterThis seems an appropriate time to revisit the subject of Royal Charters.

This old blog post discussed IP Draughts’ excitement at discovering that the Privy Council – a body that has advised the King since medieval times – has a website that includes an Excel spreadsheet listing all bodies incorporated by Royal Charter – it now lists several hundred bodies, from the Weavers Company in 1155 to the UK Cyber Security Council in 2022.

Nowadays, most UK corporations are incorporated under companies legislation – most recently the Companies Act 2006, but earlier laws date back to the mid-nineteenth century. Before then, two main ways of incorporating were to secure an Act of Parliament, or a Royal Charter.

In the modern era, the Royal Charter route tends to be reserved for non-commercial organisations, such as professional associations and public bodies.

IP Draughts encounters bodies incorporated by Royal Charter on a daily basis. Several of his clients are universities that are so incorporated. And for the last year he has been a Council member of the Law Society of England and Wales, which represents over 200,000 solicitors, and received its first Royal Charter in 1845.

A couple of practice points:

  1. Royal Charter bodies are now included on the UK Companies Register, where they are identified by the letters “RC” in their company number. Unlike the position in many countries, it is possible to conduct free searches of the information held on the register. For example, here is the entry for University College London. But the register for Royal Charter bodies doesn’t include the detailed information that Companies Act companies are required to provide, such as annual accounts and lists of directors.
  2. UK company law was modernised in the 1980s to allow a Companies-Act company to execute a deed without applying a company seal to the document. But the law was not changed for non-Companies-Act companies, such as Royal Charter bodies, which still need to apply their seal to a deed.

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