Letters Of Absolution

Letters Of Absolution
Letters Of Absolution
Quick Summary of Letters Of Absolution

In the past, an abbot would issue letters of absolution to release a member of their religious order from their vows of obedience. This would enable the member to join another religious order. For instance, during mediaeval times, a monk who wished to leave his monastery and join a different order required letters of absolution from his abbot. These letters served as evidence that he was no longer bound by his vows and could seamlessly transition to a new order. This example demonstrates how letters of absolution were used in the past to facilitate the transfer of members between religious orders. These letters held great significance, as breaking vows of obedience was considered a grave offence. Without the letters, the monk would be viewed as a deserter and could potentially face punishment.

What is the dictionary definition of Letters Of Absolution?
Dictionary Definition of Letters Of Absolution

Absolution letters are historical documents that were issued by an abbot to release a member of their religious order from their vows of obedience, thereby enabling them to join another order.

Full Definition Of Letters Of Absolution

Letters of absolution, also known as letters of pardon or letters of forgiveness, play a significant role in the legal systems of various jurisdictions. These documents serve to forgive or absolve an individual from certain legal consequences, typically those related to criminal or civil liability. In this overview, we will examine the concept of letters of absolution within the context of British law, exploring their historical roots, legal basis, procedural aspects, and implications.

Historical Background

The concept of granting absolution or pardon dates back to ancient legal traditions. In the medieval period, the monarchs of England held the power to grant pardons, which was seen as an act of royal prerogative. This power was exercised to forgive crimes and commute sentences, often influenced by political, social, or religious considerations. The royal pardon was a manifestation of the king’s mercy and was used as a tool to maintain social order and loyalty.

Legal Basis

Royal Prerogative

In the United Kingdom, the power to grant pardons is vested in the monarch and exercised on the advice of the government. This royal prerogative is enshrined in common law and remains a significant aspect of the constitutional framework. The principle allows the sovereign to issue a pardon for any offence, effectively nullifying the legal consequences of a conviction.

Statutory Provisions

Apart from the royal prerogative, statutory provisions also govern the issuance of pardons. The Criminal Justice Act 1988, for example, provides a legal framework for the exercise of this power. The Act outlines the procedures for applying for a pardon and the criteria that must be met. Additionally, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 allows certain convictions to be considered spent after a specified period, effectively granting a form of absolution.

Types of Pardons

Full Pardon

A full pardon absolves an individual of all legal consequences arising from their conviction. It restores the individual’s civil rights and eliminates any penalties associated with the offence. In essence, it is as if the conviction never occurred.

Conditional Pardon

A conditional pardon, on the other hand, imposes specific conditions that the recipient must comply with to benefit from the pardon. Failure to meet these conditions can result in the reinstatement of the original penalties. Conditional pardons are often used to commute sentences or release individuals on probation.

Posthumous Pardon

Posthumous pardons are granted to individuals after their death. These pardons serve to correct historical injustices or acknowledge wrongful convictions. A notable example is the posthumous pardon granted to Alan Turing in 2013 for his conviction of gross indecency in 1952.

Procedural Aspects

Application Process

The process of obtaining a pardon typically begins with an application to the relevant authorities. In the UK, applications for pardons are submitted to the Ministry of Justice. The application must provide detailed information about the offence, the circumstances surrounding the conviction, and any mitigating factors that support the request for a pardon.

Review and Recommendation

Once an application is submitted, it undergoes a thorough review by the relevant officials. This review process involves examining the facts of the case, assessing the applicant’s conduct since the conviction, and considering any evidence of rehabilitation or remorse. Based on this review, a recommendation is made to the monarch, who makes the final decision.

Issuance of the Pardon

If the pardon is granted, a formal document known as a letter of absolution is issued. This document outlines the terms of the pardon and provides official recognition of the absolution. It is typically signed by a representative of the government and sealed with the Great Seal of the Realm.

Implications of a Pardon

Legal Implications

A pardon has significant legal implications for the recipient. It removes the legal consequences of the conviction, allowing the individual to regain their civil rights. This includes the right to vote, serve on a jury, and hold public office. Additionally, a pardon can expunge the individual’s criminal record, making it easier to find employment and reintegrate into society.

Social Implications

Beyond the legal ramifications, a pardon carries important social implications. It serves as a formal acknowledgement of forgiveness and rehabilitation, helping to restore the individual’s reputation and standing in the community. This can be particularly important for individuals who have demonstrated significant personal growth and a commitment to making amends.

Limitations of a Pardon

It is important to note that while a pardon removes the legal consequences of a conviction, it does not erase the historical fact of the offence. The conviction remains a part of the individual’s record, even if it is no longer legally significant. Additionally, a pardon does not imply innocence; rather, it is an act of mercy that forgives the offence.

Controversies and Criticisms

Political Influence

The power to grant pardons has been subject to criticism due to the potential for political influence. Critics argue that pardons can be used to favour political allies or supporters, undermining the principles of justice and fairness. This concern has led to calls for greater transparency and accountability in the pardon process.

Selective Justice

Another criticism is that the pardon process can result in selective justice, where some individuals receive clemency while others do not. This selective application of mercy can create perceptions of inequality and injustice, particularly if there is a lack of clear criteria for granting pardons.

Impact on Victims

The issuance of pardons can also have a significant impact on victims and their families. For some, the pardon of an offender may be seen as a denial of justice and a disregard for the harm suffered. Balancing the interests of victims with the principles of mercy and rehabilitation is a complex challenge in the administration of pardons.

Comparative Perspective

United States

In the United States, the power to grant pardons is vested in the President and the governors of individual states. The process and criteria for granting pardons vary widely across jurisdictions. Presidential pardons, in particular, have been the subject of significant political debate and scrutiny.


In Canada, the power to grant pardons is exercised by the Governor General on the advice of the federal government. The process is governed by the Criminal Records Act, which outlines the criteria and procedures for obtaining a pardon, known as a record suspension.

European Union

Within the European Union, the approach to pardons varies among member states. Some countries, like France and Germany, retain the power of pardon within the executive branch, while others, like Italy, involve judicial review in the process. The European Convention on Human Rights also influences the application of pardons by promoting principles of fairness and justice.


Letters of absolution, or pardons, represent a significant aspect of the legal system in the United Kingdom and other jurisdictions. They provide a mechanism for granting forgiveness and absolving individuals of the legal consequences of their convictions. Rooted in historical traditions and governed by a combination of royal prerogatives and statutory provisions, the power to grant pardons continues to evolve.

While pardons offer important benefits, such as restoring civil rights and acknowledging rehabilitation, they also raise complex issues related to political influence, selective justice, and the impact on victims. Balancing these considerations requires careful administration and a commitment to principles of fairness and transparency.

As society continues to grapple with questions of justice, mercy, and rehabilitation, the role of letters of absolution remains a vital and evolving area of legal practice. Whether addressing historical injustices or providing a second chance to deserving individuals, pardons reflect the enduring capacity for forgiveness and redemption within the legal system.

Letters Of Absolution FAQ'S

A Letter of Absolution is a legal document that releases an individual or organisation from any liability or responsibility for a specific action or event.

A Letter of Absolution is typically used when one party wants to be relieved of any legal consequences or obligations arising from a particular situation or event.

A Letter of Absolution can be issued by any party who has the authority to release someone from liability, such as an employer, a landlord, or a business owner.

Yes, a properly drafted and executed Letter of Absolution can be legally binding, provided it meets all the necessary legal requirements.

In most cases, once a Letter of Absolution is issued and accepted, it cannot be revoked unless both parties agree to do so or if there are specific conditions mentioned in the letter.

A Letter of Absolution can protect against future claims only if it explicitly states that it releases the party from any future liability related to the specific action or event mentioned in the letter.

Yes, a Letter of Absolution can be used as evidence in court to prove that one party has been released from liability or responsibility for a particular action or event.

Yes, a Letter of Absolution can be used to waive someone’s legal rights, but it is important to note that certain rights may not be waived, especially those protected by law.

Yes, a Letter of Absolution can be included in an employment contract to protect the employer from certain liabilities or claims arising from the employee’s actions.

While it is not mandatory, it is always recommended to seek legal advice when drafting a Letter of Absolution to ensure that it is legally enforceable and covers all necessary aspects.

Related Phrases
No related content found.

This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 7th June 2024.

Cite Term

To help you cite our definitions in your bibliography, here is the proper citation layout for the three major formatting styles, with all of the relevant information filled in.

  • Page URL:https://dlssolicitors.com/define/letters-of-absolution/
  • Modern Language Association (MLA):Letters Of Absolution. dlssolicitors.com. DLS Solicitors. June 23 2024 https://dlssolicitors.com/define/letters-of-absolution/.
  • Chicago Manual of Style (CMS):Letters Of Absolution. dlssolicitors.com. DLS Solicitors. https://dlssolicitors.com/define/letters-of-absolution/ (accessed: June 23 2024).
  • American Psychological Association (APA):Letters Of Absolution. dlssolicitors.com. Retrieved June 23 2024, from dlssolicitors.com website: https://dlssolicitors.com/define/letters-of-absolution/
Avatar of DLS Solicitors
DLS Solicitors : Family Law Solicitors

Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

All author posts