Having honours taken away (forfeiture)
Honours can be taken away from people who have done something to damage the honours system’s reputation. Taking an honour away is called ‘forfeiture’.
Can honours be removed?
Yes. It is possible to remove an honour on the advice of the Forfeiture Committee and with the approval of the Sovereign.
What behaviour is expected from a person who has an honour?
Both we and the wider community expect recipients of honours to be, and to remain, good citizens and role models.
What could cause an honour to be removed?
Your honour can be withdrawn (or ‘forfeited’) for a variety of reasons. This might include being found guilty of a criminal offence, behaviour which results in censure by a regulatory or a professional body, or any other behaviour that is deemed to bring the honours system into disrepute.
A decision to forfeit your honour can be based on events that pre-date the award (for example, a past criminal conviction, even if spent), or conduct that occurs after the award is made.
What should I do if I believe that someone with an honour has behaved in a way that could lead to forfeiture?
You should contact the Cabinet Office at firstname.lastname@example.org, naming the individual and explaining the reasons why you believe their honour should be forfeited. Please bear in mind that personal disputes are not likely to be a reason to forfeit an honour. Examples of the kind of behaviour that may lead to revocation of an honour can be found below.
What is the process for forfeiture?
Recommendations to remove honours are considered by the Forfeiture Committee. Each case is considered individually. The Committee’s recommendations for forfeiture are submitted through the Prime Minister to HM King. If HM King gives her approval, a notice of forfeiture is usually placed in the London Gazette.
What is the role of the Forfeiture Committee?
The Forfeiture Committee considers cases put to it when the holder of an honour has brought the honours system into disrepute. Examples include if an individual:
- has been found guilty by the courts of a criminal offence and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of more than three months
- has been censured or struck off by the relevant regulatory authority or professional body, for actions or failures to act, especially which are directly relevant to the granting of the honour
- has been found guilty by the courts of a criminal offence covered by the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (England and Wales), Sexual Offences Order 2008 (Northern Ireland) or Sexual Offences Act 2009 (Scotland);
- has been found to have committed a sexual act which is listed in the Acts above following a ‘trial of the facts’.
But the Committee is not restricted to these two criteria, and any case can be considered where there is evidence to suggest that the retention of an honour would bring the honours system into disrepute.
The Committee is not an investigatory body – it does not decide whether or not someone is guilty or innocent of a particular act. Instead, it reflects the findings of official investigations and makes a recommendation of whether or not the honours system has been brought into disrepute.
Do honours holders being considered for forfeiture have a right of appeal?
Recipients may be asked to give written representations where the Committee feels that the evidence is not clearcut or where the recipient has been found to have committed a sexual act which is listed in the Acts above following a ‘trial of the facts’.
Can honours be forfeited posthumously?
The Order of the British Empire is a living Order. Honours therefore automatically fall away upon the death of the recipient. However, the Forfeiture Committee can consider specific cases where a recipient has been accused of a crime after their death, with a view to issuing a statement that confirms action would have been taken had that individual been convicted.
Under what circumstances does the Committee consider deceased recipients?
The Committee is able to consider a case where allegations of criminal behaviour are drawn to its attention within ten years of the death of the recipient. The crime must be reported to the police, and the police must make the decision that the seriousness of the allegation warrants their taking a full witness statement from the accuser(s).
Where would the Committee publish a statement in such cases?
Where the Committee is satisfied that all the above criteria are met, a statement will be published in the London Gazette and on the gov.uk website.
Who is on the Forfeiture Committee?
The Forfeiture Committee has a majority of independent members. It is chaired by Sir Chris Wormald KCB on delegated authority from the Head of the Civil Service. The other members are the Treasury solicitor and three permanent, independent members.
How long has the Forfeiture Committee been in existence?
About fifty years.
How many times does it meet?
It meets as required.
Where can I find the names of people who have been stripped of their honours?
The names of those who have had honours revoked are usually published in the London Gazette. The Committee retains the right not to publicise its decisions.
Where can I find a list of people under active consideration by the committee?
The Forfeiture Committee cannot comment on whether the recipient of an honour is being considered for forfeiture.
What practical steps need to be taken by someone whose honour is forfeited?
They will be asked to return their insignia to Buckingham Palace and can no longer make any reference to their having an honour in the future. This would include use of the honour post-nominals on websites, publications or business cards.
Can a person who has forfeited be considered for an honour in the future?
It is not likely that a person who has behaved in a way that caused their honour to be forfeited will be considered a suitable role model in the future.
Can an honour be forfeited voluntarily?
An honour can only be forfeited by the decision of Her Majesty. However, an individual may decide to renounce their honour voluntarily and take the practical steps required of those that have forfeited.
They would still hold the honour unless or until HM King annulled it. Their decision would not be publicised by the Cabinet Office and they would continue to be able to describe themself as holding an honour.
Can an honour be restored?
Honours and medals can be restored to living individuals whose convictions for repealed offences have been determined as eligible to be disregarded/pardoned. A valid disregard determination must be obtained, 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.
The Forfeiture Committee are able to restore honours and civilian medals and the Defence Council are able to restore military medals, if certain criteria have been met.
Last updated 30 September 2021 + show all updates
Updates to policy
Updated to include information on restoration of honours.
Additional questions/answers added to page.