Guidance

How the honours system works

Guidance on the honours system, its integrity and how it works.

Documents

Information Sharing Agreement between National Police Chiefs' Council and CO Honours and Appointments Secretariat

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Memorandum of Understanding between HMRC and Cabinet Office

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Details

How the honours system works

The honours system covers the whole of the UK, and all honours are approved by HM Queen. Anyone can nominate anyone else for an honour. Find out more about how to nominate someone.

The Honours and Appointments Secretariat in the Cabinet Office coordinates the operation of the honours system. It provides administrative support to the independent honours committees which consider nominations.

The Honours and Appointments Secretariat also supports the committee on the grant of honours, decorations and medals (known as the HD Committee). The HD Committee is the policy-making body for the honours system. It gives advice directly to HM Queen about possible changes to the honours system and military medals policy, including considering new awards. Its members are senior officials in the Civil Service and the Royal Household.

An independent sub-committee of the HD Committee – called the Advisory Military Sub-Committee – considers claims for medallic recognition of past military service.

Membership of the HD Committee:

  • Sir Chris Wormald (chair)
  • Principal Private Secretary to HM Queen
  • Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister
  • Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • Permanent Secretary of the Home Office
  • Permanent Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Defence
  • Secretary of the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood

The integrity of the honours system

Honours are given to reward outstanding service and achievement in a given field or area. As part of the nomination process, we try to minimise the risk that prospective candidates have behaved in ways likely to bring the system into disrepute.

Merit checks

Once an honours nomination is submitted to the Honours and Appointments Secretariat in the Cabinet Office, a process of validation is carried out to assess the strength and credibility of the case. Each nomination is handled differently, depending on what the person has been doing. Typically, views will be sought from organisations like:

  • government departments
  • regulatory bodies like the Charity Commission, or organisations that represent professions which are regulated by law
  • HM Lord-Lieutenants, who represent HM Queen around the UK
  • professional organisations, such as business or charitable groups

The time it takes to process a nomination depends on which checks are needed and how easy it is to corroborate the information provided in the nomination form. We aim for all nominations to be fully assessed within one year.

Probity and propriety checks

We protect the integrity of the honours system by carrying out probity checks with a number of government departments, before names are submitted to the Prime Minister and HM Queen for approval.

As part of this vetting process, HM Revenue and Customs may advise the Honours and Appointments Secretariat about any potential risk posed to HM Government and the Crown by honours candidates, by reference to a low, medium or high rating. The agreement between the Cabinet Office and HM Revenue and Customs can be found at the top of this page.

The ACRO Criminal Records Office may also provide advice concerning information held about an honours nominee or an honours recipient. The agreement between the Cabinet Office and ACRO can be found at the top of this page.

Handling of honours information

All information about an honours nominee, received from any source, is treated in the strictest confidence by the Honours and Appointments Secretariat and others involved in the assessment and selection of honours nominees. All checks and exchanges of information are carried out in compliance with data protection laws. Information is shared only as agreed in data sharing agreements, and there are processes to ensure that information is stored and destroyed securely.

Restoration of honours and medals following a formal disregard determination

From February 2021, it will be possible for honours and medals to be restored to living individuals whose convictions for repealed offences have been determined as eligible to be disregarded/pardoned under the provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, the Policing and Crime Act 2017, and the Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Act 2018. A valid disregard determination must also be obtained.

A key aim for the honours system is to make it more equitable and better representative of UK society. Prior to this legislation being enacted, individuals may have had honours or medals removed after receiving convictions for homosexual behaviour that has now been de-criminalised. We are pleased to be introducing a policy which enables individuals to apply to have their medals or honours restored and would invite any individual affected to apply.

The criteria for the restoration of honours and medals to living individuals whose convictions have been disregarded/pardoned under these provisions have been approved by the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals (known as HD Committee) and by HM The Queen.

As such, the Forfeiture Committee is able to restore honours and civilian medals and the Defence Council is able to restore military medals, if the below criteria have been met.

Criteria

An honour or medal will be restored if the application satisfies all of the following criteria:

a. the applicant can present a valid disregard determination letter from: the Home Office as provided for under Chapter 4 Part 5 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, or the Department of Justice (Northern Ireland) under Chapter 4 Part 5 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (as amended by the Policing and Crime Act 2017); or the Scottish Government under the Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Act 2018

b. there is no evidence that the individual forfeited the honour or medal for reasons unrelated to the convictions for which the disregard determination has been issued

c. the Forfeiture Committee/Defence Council is satisfied that there is no other basis on which the honour or medal should remain forfeited

Any individual with a valid disregard determination who believes that they are eligible to have an honour or medal restored should apply in writing to honours@cabinetoffice.gov.uk providing evidence of their valid disregard, along with their full name, address, date of birth, and details regarding which honours or medals were forfeited (such as the name of the honour or medal and the dates of award and forfeiture) and the circumstances under which they were forfeited.

Applications relating to honours and civilian medals will be processed by the Honours and Appointments Secretariat within the Cabinet Office who will work with relevant government departments to validate and process applications. If an application relates to military medals, this will be passed onto the Ministry of Defence for consideration by the Defence Council. Find out more on the Restoration of Military Medals.

We protect the integrity of the honours system by carrying out probity checks with a number of government departments, before names are submitted to the Forfeiture Committee. For further details please see our privacy notice.

The Forfeiture Committee is chaired by Sir Tom Scholar and has a majority of independent members. Where the Forfeiture Committee feels that evidence is not clear cut, extra information is required to understand the circumstances under which a medal or honour was forfeited, or if there is another basis on which the honour or medal might remain forfeited, applicants will, where appropriate, be given the opportunity to provide further information or representations in writing.

If an application for restoration is recommended by the Forfeiture Committee, we will write to the recipient to inform them and organise for the honours or medals to be restored. Notice of honours and medals restored will be published in the London Gazette and recipients will be sent the insignia or medals that have been restored to them.

If an application is unsuccessful the applicant will be informed of the decision made by the Forfeiture Committee.

Honours can only be awarded to living members. As such, honours cannot be restored posthumously.

For further information on how to apply for a previous convictions for decriminalised sexual behaviours to be considered for eligibility for a disregard/pardon, please go to:

Freedom of Information

Information about how to make a Freedom of Information Act request can be found on the Cabinet Office page. When the Cabinet Office receives questions about the honours system, it considers whether it holds the information requested. If it does, it applies a public interest test (under section 37(1)(b) of the Act) to decide whether or not to release information. It will also consider if the information requested includes personal data or has been provided in confidence.

Published 5 September 2018
Last updated 16 February 2021 + show all updates
  1. Updated to include information on restoration of honours and medals following a formal disregard determination.

  2. First published.