BSI is a private company incorporated by Royal Charter, first awarded (to the British Engineering Standards Association) in 1929, and amended several times subsequently.
The Royal Charter is essentially an enabling document that sets out the purpose of BSI and defines in broad terms its range of activities, including its functions as a standards body, as well as its ability to offer training, testing and certification services. It does not, to any great extent, impose specific duties or responsibilities on the company.
The Royal Charter is supplemented by the bye-laws which detail some aspects of how BSI has to be run. They cover matters such as membership, the conduct of General Meetings and the composition of the Board.
Royal Charters have a history which dates back to the 13th century and are granted by the British sovereign on the advice of the UK Privy Council.
Their original purpose was to create public or private corporations (including towns and cities), and to define their privileges and purpose.
Today, though they are still occasionally granted to cities, new Charters are normally reserved for bodies that work in the public interest. These organizations include professional institutions and charities who can demonstrate pre-eminence, stability and permanence in their particular field. The BBC has a Royal Charter, as do many long-established universities in the UK.