The Sovereign Order of Malta is a sovereign subject of international law. The Order's life is governed by the Constitutional Charter and the Code, reformed in 1997.
The Order has its own Government, an independent magistracy, bilateral diplomatic relations with 92 countries and is granted the status of Permanent Observer in many international organisations, such as the United Nations. The Order issues its own passports and stamps and creates public institutions.
The Grand Master governs the Order with the assistance of the Sovereign Council, presided over by himself and composed of the four High Officers. These are the Grand Commander, the Grand Chancellor, the Grand Hospitaller, the Receiver of the Common Treasure, as well as six other members elected by the General Chapter. The holders of these offices are chosen from among the professed Knights and the Knights in Obedience.
The legal system of the Order is expressed by the usual division into three powers:
- legislative power rests with the Chapter General, representing the Supreme Assembly of Knights, as far as constitutional rules are concerned, and with the Grand Master and Sovereign Council for non-constitutional matters;
- executive power rests with the Sovereign Council, chaired by the Grand Master and composed of 10 Knights elected by the Chapter General;
- judicial power is exercised by the Magistral Courts of First Instance and of Appeal, composed of judges appointed by the Grand Master and the Sovereign Council from Order members of legal expertise.
The 10,000 Knights of the Order are divided into three Classes. They must abide by the precepts dictated by the Church and are required to participate in the humanitarian assistance activities of the Order.
The Order is based in Rome in via Condotti 68. Its operational activities are managed by the six Grand Priories, four Subpriories and 45 National Associations of Knights in the five continents.