The King can do no wrong.
This maxim does not imply that the King cannot, as a man, do wrong, but that, in his kingly capacity, wrong is not to be imputed to him. As an individual, however, the King is protected from ordinary common law proceedings by a subject by suit or action for injury of a private nature not in respect to a claim to property.
The King, it is said, is not under the dominion of man, but of God and the law, and it is not to be presumed that he will do or sanction anything contrary to the law to which he is equally amenable with his subjects : but, if an evil act be done, though emanating from the King personally, it will be imputed to his ministers, and the King is in no way responsible for their acts, whether they be his immediate advisers or any one acting in authority under him or them.
Upon the principle of this maxim, the Crown cannot be prejudiced by the neglect or wrongful acts of its servants, nor by errors in grants, letters patent, etc, which will, as a matter of course, be amended. Where the Crown has been induced by fraud or misrepresentation to make a grant of any right or privilege whereby injury is done to another, the grant is void ; for the Crown cannot dispense with anything in which the subject has an interest, nor make a grant contrary to law or in derogation of the vested interests of individuals. But this does not, of course, apply to any grant by Act of Parliament, for nothing can be admitted to invalidate such a grant ; but it applies to a grant of Crown lands, of letters patent for inventions, and such like ; as, where two patents have been granted for the same thing, the one last granted is void, and that, not for its want of novelty alone, but because the patent has been improperly obtained, there not having been any consideration for the grant at the time it was made.
It follows of necessity, from the relative position of the parties, that no injury can be intentionally done by the Crown to the subject ; but, if by any means a wrong be committed by the Crown or any of its officers acting upon proper authority, that injury will be redressed, not, however, by compulsory action as between subject and subject, but by suit in the nature of a petition of right ; which is a statement of the grievance complained of, and praying redress, and upon which the King orders justice to be done. The petition is, however, a petition of right, that is, the prayer of it is grantable ex debito justitice, and not ex mere gratia, or of favour merely.
Recent legislation has materially altered the mode of proceeding upon a petition of right with a view to render it more simple. A petition of right may now be instituted in any of the superior courts of common law or equity at Westminster, and, being addressed to Her Majesty, as in a form given in the schedule to the Act, setting forth the facts entitling the suppliant to relief, is to be left with the Secretary of State for consideration of Her Majesty, who, if she think fit, will thereupon grant her fiat that right be done. The petition is then left with the Solicitor of the Treasury endorsed with a prayer for a plea or answer on behalf of Her Majesty, who will transmit it to the particular department to which the subject of it relates, when it is proceeded with in nearly the same manner as an ordinary suit.