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MacCormick v Lord Advocate 1953 | Constitutional Law

MacCormick v Lord Advocate [1953]

MacCormick v Lord Advocate [1953] SC 396 was a Scottish constitutional law case concerning the use of the numeral "II" by Queen Elizabeth II in Scotland.


John MacCormick and Ian Hamilton filed a legal action challenging the use of the numeral "II" by Queen Elizabeth II in Scotland on the grounds that it breached the Act of Union 1707 because Elizabeth I had been Queen of England but not of Scotland, so the numeral "I" should be used by Queen Elizabeth II in Scotland rather than "II".


The Acts of Union were two Acts of Parliament passed by Parliaments of England and Scotland to unify the two countries. The Union with Scotland Act 1706 was passed by the Parliament of England, while the Union with England Act 1707 was passed by the Parliament of Scotland. These two Acts put into effect the terms of the Treaty of Union (also known as the Articles of Union), leading to the creation of Great Britain.


The case was dismissed at first instance and subsequently appealed to the Inner House of Scotland. The court found that the Union with England Act 1707 did not include provisions regarding the numbering of monarchs and it was within the royal prerogative to decide upon the title, so the petitioners had no grounds to sue the Crown.


The case has remained constitutionally relevant to date as it pointed out that the concept of unlimited parliamentary sovereignty is a distinctively English rather than Scottish constitutional principle, so when the two countries gained a joint parliament, the Parliament of the United Kingdom might not have the authority to repeal or alter fundamental and essential conditions of the 1707 Act. The court also noted that there was neither precedent nor authority for courts of Scotland or England to determine governmental actions in breach of the Acts of Union, so the court was uncertain whether it had the authority to decide this issue.


The significance of this case lies in its constitutional implications, with the Lord President highlighting the absence of authority for domestic courts to determine the conformity of governmental acts with treaty provisions. This aspect became relevant in later decisions, including Jackson v Attorney General [2005].


Notably, Winston Churchill suggested that British sovereigns would use the higher of the English or Scottish regnal number. While MacCormick ultimately lost the case, its impact continued, influencing discussions around the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and being cited in subsequent legal decisions. The case remains a noteworthy chapter in the constitutional history of Scotland and the United Kingdom.


You can learn more about this topic with our Public Law and Constitutional Law notes.


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