Stephen Murray reviews 'The Veiled Sceptre: Reserve powers of heads of state in Westminster systems' by Anne Twomey

Stephen Murray reviews 'The Veiled Sceptre: Reserve powers of heads of state in Westminster systems' by Anne Twomey

The Veiled Sceptre: Reserve powers of heads of state in Westminster systems

by Anne Twomey

Cambridge University Press, $249.95 hb, 910 pp, 9781107056787

The first season of Netflix’s drama The Crown sees the young Princess Elizabeth’s constitutional education taken in hand by Eton history master Henry Marten, whose schooling of the future monarch was largely historical rather than legal, a necessity given Britain’s unwritten constitution.

In 1975, as reported in Paul Kelly and Troy Bramston’s The Dismissal (2015), Sir John Kerr undertook his own constitutional education upon becoming Australia’s governor-general, convening an academic seminar at Australian National University. Kerr soon steered the seminar – established ostensibly to consolidate various instructions given to governors-general over the years – towards his interest in the reserve powers: those powers of the monarch, or their representatives in Westminster systems, which may be exercised without, or against, the advice of the government of the day. These include the power to appoint and dismiss governments, and the power to refuse a dissolution of parliament. To Australians, the reserve powers are best known from Sir Philip Game’s dismissal of Jack Lang’s government in New South Wales in 1932, and Kerr’s dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975.

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Stephen Murray

Stephen Murray

Stephen Murray is a legal journalist and commentator, with an interest in constitutional law and politics.