Last updated

A people is any plurality of persons considered as a whole. Used in politics and law, the term "a people" refers to the collective or community of an ethnic group or nation. [1] The term "the people" refers to the public or common mass of people of a polity. [1] As such it is a concept of human rights law, international law as well as constitutional law, particularly used for claims of popular sovereignty.



Liberty Leading the People, 1830 by Eugene Delacroix Eugene Delacroix - La liberte guidant le peuple.jpg
Liberty Leading the People , 1830 by Eugène Delacroix

Chapter One, Article One of the Charter of the United Nations states that "peoples" have the right to self-determination. [2] Though the mere status as peoples and the right to self-determination, as for example in the case of Indigenous peoples (peoples, as in all peoples of indigenous people, not merely all indigenous persons as in indigenous people), does not automatically provide for independent sovereignty and therefore secession. [3] [4] Particularly through international Indigenous peoples rights, it was defined what a people constitutes (e.g. shared culture etc.).


Both the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire used the Latin term Senatus Populusque Romanus , (the Senate and People of Rome). This term was fixed abbreviated (SPQR) to Roman legionary standards, and even after the Roman Emperors achieved a state of total personal autarchy, they continued to wield their power in the name of the Senate and People of Rome.

The term People's Republic, used since late modernity, is a name used by states, which particularly identify constitutionally with a form of socialism.


In criminal law, in certain jurisdictions, criminal prosecutions are brought in the name of the People. Several U.S. states, including California, Illinois, and New York, use this style. [5] Citations outside the jurisdictions in question usually substitute the name of the state for the words "the People" in the case captions. [6] Four states Massachusetts, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky  — refer to themselves as the Commonwealth in case captions and legal process. Other states, such as Indiana, typically refer to themselves as the State in case captions and legal process. Outside the United States, criminal trials in Ireland and the Philippines are prosecuted in the name of the people of their respective states.

The political theory underlying this format is that criminal prosecutions are brought in the name of the sovereign; thus, in these U.S. states, the "people" are judged to be the sovereign, even as in the United Kingdom and other dependencies of the British Crown, criminal prosecutions are typically brought in the name of the Crown. "The people" identifies the entire body of the citizens of a jurisdiction invested with political power or gathered for political purposes. [7]

See also

Related Research Articles

Jurisdiction is the legal term for the legal authority granted to a legal entity to enact justice. In federations like the United States, areas of jurisdiction apply to local, state, and federal levels.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sovereignty</span> Supreme authority within a territory, as well as external autonomy from other states

Sovereignty is the defining authority within individual consciousness, social construct, or territory. Sovereignty entails hierarchy within the state, as well as external autonomy for states. In any state, sovereignty is assigned to the person, body, or institution that has the ultimate authority over other people in order to establish a law or change existing laws. In political theory, sovereignty is a substantive term designating supreme legitimate authority over some polity. In international law, sovereignty is the exercise of power by a state. De jure sovereignty refers to the legal right to do so; de facto sovereignty refers to the factual ability to do so. This can become an issue of special concern upon the failure of the usual expectation that de jure and de facto sovereignty exist at the place and time of concern, and reside within the same organization.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Self-determination</span> Principle in international law; the right of people to freely choose their sovereignty

The right of a people to self-determination is a cardinal principle in modern international law, binding, as such, on the United Nations as authoritative interpretation of the Charter's norms. It states that peoples, based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity, have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no interference.

A territorial dispute or boundary dispute is a disagreement over the possession or control of land between two or more political entities.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Independence</span> Condition of a nation with self-governance

Independence is a condition of a person, nation, country, or state, in which residents and population, or some portion thereof, exercise self-government, and usually sovereignty, over its territory. The opposite of independence is the status of a dependent territory. The commemoration of the independence day of a country or nation celebrates when a country is free from all forms of foreign colonialism; free to build a country or nation without any interference from other nations. India got its independence in 1946

The controversy surrounding the political status of Taiwan or the Taiwan issue is a result of World War II, the second phase of the Chinese Civil War (1945–1949), and the Cold War.

In international law, extraterritoriality is the state of being exempted from the jurisdiction of local law, usually as the result of diplomatic negotiations.

Extradition is an action wherein one jurisdiction delivers a person accused or convicted of committing a crime in another jurisdiction, over to the other's law enforcement. It is a cooperative law enforcement procedure between the two jurisdictions and depends on the arrangements made between them. In addition to legal aspects of the process, extradition also involves the physical transfer of custody of the person being extradited to the legal authority of the requesting jurisdiction.

<i>Terra nullius</i> International law term meaning territory that has never been the subject of a sovereign state

Terra nullius is a Latin expression meaning "nobody's land". It was a principle sometimes used in international law to justify claims that territory may be acquired by a state's occupation of it. There are currently three territories claimed to be terra nullius, two of which are caused by border disputes between sovereign states.

The Crown is the state in all its aspects within the jurisprudence of the Commonwealth realms and their subdivisions. Legally ill-defined, the term has different meanings depending on context. It is used to designate the monarch in either a personal capacity, as Head of the Commonwealth, or as the king or queen of their realms. It can also refer to the rule of law; however, in common parlance 'The Crown' refers to the functions of government and the civil service. Thus, in the United Kingdom, the government of the United Kingdom can be distinguished from the Crown and the state, in precise usage, although the distinction is not always relevant in broad or casual usage.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Constitution of Croatia</span> Supreme law of Croatia

The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia is promulgated by the Croatian Parliament.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tribal sovereignty in the United States</span> Type of political status of Native Americans

Tribal sovereignty in the United States is the concept of the inherent authority of indigenous tribes to govern themselves within the borders of the United States.

International law is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally recognized as binding between states. It establishes normative guidelines and a common conceptual framework for states across a broad range of domains, including war, diplomacy, economic relations, and human rights. Scholars distinguish between international legal institutions on the basis of their obligations, precision, and delegation.

The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides: "[N]or shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb..." The four essential protections included are prohibitions against, for the same offense:

A sovereign state is a state that has the highest jurisdiction over a territory. International law defines sovereign states as having a permanent population, defined territory, a government not under another, and has the capacity to interact with other sovereign states. It is also normally understood that a sovereign state is independent.

United States v. Lara, 541 U.S. 193 (2004), was a United States Supreme Court landmark case which held that both the United States and a Native American (Indian) tribe could prosecute an Indian for the same acts that constituted crimes in both jurisdictions. The Court held that the United States and the tribe were separate sovereigns; therefore, separate tribal and federal prosecutions did not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause.

Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez, 436 U.S. 49 (1978), was a landmark case in the area of federal Indian law involving issues of great importance to the meaning of tribal sovereignty in the contemporary United States. The Supreme Court sustained a law passed by the governing body of the Santa Clara Pueblo that explicitly discriminated on the basis of sex. In so doing, the Court advanced a theory of tribal sovereignty that weighed the interests of tribes sufficient to justify a law that, had it been passed by a state legislature or Congress, would have almost certainly been struck down as a violation of equal protection.

Ex parte Crow Dog, 109 U.S. 556 (1883), is a landmark decision of the Supreme Court of the United States that followed the death of one member of a Native American tribe at the hands of another on reservation land. Crow Dog was a member of the Brulé band of the Lakota Sioux. On August 5, 1881 he shot and killed Spotted Tail, a Lakota chief; there are different accounts of the background to the killing. The tribal council dealt with the incident according to Sioux tradition, and Crow Dog paid restitution to the dead man's family. However, the U.S. authorities then prosecuted Crow Dog for murder in a federal court. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang.

There are a wide variety of views regarding the legal status of the State of Palestine, both among the states of the international community and among legal scholars. The existence of a state of Palestine, although controversial, is a reality in the opinions of the states that have established bilateral diplomatic relations. It is a non-member observer state at the United Nations since November, 2012. As of 31 July 2019, a total of 138 countries recognize it.


  1. 1 2 "Definition of People". Collins Dictionary.
  2. "Charter of the United Nations: Chapter I: Purposes and Principles". United Nations. Archived from the original on 8 May 2015. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
  3. Shrinkhal, Rashwet (2021). ""Indigenous sovereignty" and right to self-determination in international law: a critical appraisal". AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples. SAGE Publications. 17 (1): 71–82. doi: 10.1177/1177180121994681 . ISSN   1177-1801. S2CID   232264306.
  4. See the following:
    • Shaw, Malcolm Nathan (2003). International law . Cambridge University Press. p.  178. Article 1 of the Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States, 1 lays down the most widely accepted formulation of the criteria of statehood in international law. It notes that the state as an international person should possess the following qualifications: '(a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with other states'
    • Jasentuliyana, Nandasiri, ed. (1995). Perspectives on international law. Kluwer Law International. p. 20. So far as States are concerned, the traditional definitions provided for in the Montevideo Convention remain generally accepted.
  5. See, e.g., California v. Anderson 6 Cal. 3d 628; 493 P.2d 880; 100 Cal. Rptr. 152; 1972 Cal. LEXIS 154 (1972)
  6. See generally, The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation , rule 10.
  7. Black's Law Dictionary , 5th ed., "People".