Meaning: The King is not bound by any statute if he be not expressly named therein.
This maxim must not be taken to extend to any Act giving relief against a wrong, nor to Acts passed for the public welfare by which the King is certainly bound, though not named therein. It extends, however, to any statute tending to divest the King of any of his royal prerogatives respecting which he will not be bound thereby without express words. It is, however, well understood that none of the King's prerogatives extend to do injury to anyone, being created expressly for the benefit of the people, and where they have a contrary tendency they must be considered as contrary to law.
One of the attributes of sovereignty is, that the King in his political capacity is absolute perfection, he can do no wrong, nor suffer wrong.
An Act of Parliament is the exercise of the highest authority that this kingdom acknowledges. It has power to bind every subject in the land, and the dominions belonging thereto ; even the King himself if particularly named : but it is one of the attributes of sovereignty that the King is not bound by any statute unless therein specially named, and this, notwithstanding that it is also said to be a maxim of English law, that “ Rex debet esse sub lege, quia lex facit regem.”
The King, then, is not bound by any Act of Parliament unless he be named therein by special and particular words. It is said that the most general words that could be devised, as, “any person or persons, bodies, politic or corporate, etc,” would not affect him in the least if they had any tendency to restrain or diminish any of his rights or interests. It is upon the like principle that a statute which treats of things or persons of an inferior rank, cannot by any general words be extended to those of a superior ; as a statute treating of “ deans, prebendaries, parsons, vicars, and others having spiritual promotion,” would not extend to bishops, though they have spiritual promotion ; deans being the highest persons named, and bishops being still higher. For, as to the King, it would be most mischievous to the public welfare if in him the strength of the executive power were liable to be curtailed by constructions and implications of the subject, without the express consent of such executive. Yet, where an Act of Parliament is made expressly for the preservation of public rights, and the suppression of public wrongs, without interfering with the established right and prerogatives of the Crown, it is said to be binding as well upon the King as upon subject. And it is said also with reference to ecclesiastical matters, that the King, as well as the subject, is bound by statute having reference thereto, unless expressly exempted, and that in all such statutes relating to ecclesiastical matters, the King comes within the meaning of the words, person or persons, body politic or corporate, as being persona mixta, and body politic also.
The King may, however, take the benefit of any particular statute, although not expressly named.
The following modern instance is a practical illustration of the maxim in England. The County Courts Act takes away the power of a superior court to remove a plaint from the county court by writ of certiorari where the debt or damage shall not exceed 5L. It has been held that the statutory provision in such case did not take away the prerogative right of the Crown to remove into the Court of Exchequer a cause affecting the revenue.