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In the British Empire, a self-governing colony was a colony with an elected government in which elected rulers were able to make most decisions without referring to the colonial power with nominal control of the colony. This was in contrast to a Crown colony, in which the British Government ruled and legislated via an appointed Governor, with or without the assistance of an appointed Council. Most self-governing colonies had responsible government.
Self-governing colonies for the most part have no formal authority over constitutional matters such the monarchy and the constitutional relationship with Britain. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, in London, serves as the ultimate avenue of appeal in matters of law and justice.
Colonies have sometimes been referred to as "self-governing" in situations where the executive has been under the control of neither the imperial government nor a local legislature elected by universal suffrage, but by a local oligarchy state. In most cases such control has been exercised by an elite class from a settler community.
The then-remaining British colonies, self-governing (notably Bermuda) or Crown (notably Hong Kong), were re-designated British Dependent Territories from 1983, then British Overseas Territories from 2002.
The term "self-governing colony" has sometimes been used in relation to the direct rule of a Crown colony by an executive governor, elected under a limited franchise, such as in Massachusetts between 1630 and 1684.
The first local legislatures raised in England's colonies were the House of Burgesses of Virginia (1619) and the House of Assembly of Bermuda (1620), originally part of Virginia. The Parliament of Bermuda, which now also includes a Senate, is the third-oldest in the Commonwealth of Nations, after the Tynwald and Westminster (currently the Parliament of the United Kingdom). Of the three, only Bermuda's has legislated continuously, with the Royalist camp maintaining control of the archipelago during the Commonwealth of England and the Protectorate.
However, in the modern sense of the term, the first self-governing colony is generally considered to have been the Province of Canada, in 1841; the colony gained responsible government in 1849. All the colonies of British North America became self-governing between 1848 and 1855, except the Colony of Vancouver Island. Nova Scotia was the first colony to achieve responsible government in January–February 1848 through the efforts of Joseph Howe, followed by the Province of Canada later that year. They were followed by Prince Edward Island in 1851, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland in 1855 under Philip Francis Little. The Canadian colonies were federated as a Dominion in 1867, except for Newfoundland, which remained a separate self-governing colony, was a separate Dominion in 1907-1934, reverted to being a crown colony in 1934, and joined Canada in 1949. However, the term "self-governing colony" is not widely used by Canadian constitutional experts.
In Australasia, the term self-governing colony is widely used by historians and constitutional lawyers in relation to the political arrangements in the seven British settler colonies of Australasia — New South Wales, New Zealand, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia — between 1852 and 1901, when the six Australian colonies agreed to Federation and became a Dominion. New Zealand remained a separate colony until 1907, when it too became a Dominion.
In southern Africa, the Cape Colony was granted representative government in 1852, followed by responsible government in 1872. Natal became self-governing in 1893, Transvaal in 1906 and Orange River Colony in 1908. These four colonies were united as a unitary Dominion, the Union of South Africa, in 1910). Southern Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe), became a self-governing colony in 1923.
Malta was also a self-governing colony between 1921 and 1933, 1947 and 1958, and 1962 until independence two years later.
The best-known examples of self-governing colonies are the Dominions, during the mid-to-late-19th century and early 20th century. In the Dominions, prior to the Statute of Westminster in 1931, a Governor General, officially the monarch's representative, was a de facto arm of the British government.
After the passing of the Statute of Westminster, the Dominions ceased to be considered colonies, although many colonies which did not have Dominion status were self-governing. However, after that time, the Dominions were largely free to act in matters of defence and foreign affairs, if they so chose and "Dominion" gradually acquired a new meaning: a state which was independent of Britain, but which shared the British monarch as the official head of state. The term Dominion has since largely fallen out of use and been replaced with the term Realm.
In 1981, under the British Nationality Act 1981 and reflecting the change in status toward devolved self-government (and depriving colonials of the rights of abode and work in the United Kingdom), self-governing and Crown colonies were renamed "British Dependent Territories".This terminology caused offence to both loyalists and nationalists in the territories and was changed in 2002, by the means of the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, to British Overseas Territories.
Responsible government is a conception of a system of government that embodies the principle of parliamentary accountability, the foundation of the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy. Governments in Westminster democracies are responsible to parliament rather than to the monarch, or, in a colonial context, to the imperial government, and in a republican context, to the president, either in full or in part. If the parliament is bicameral, then the government is responsible first to the parliament's lower house, which is more representative than the upper house, as it usually has more members and they are always directly elected.
The Statute of Westminster 1931 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom whose modified versions are now domestic law within Australia and Canada; it has been repealed in New Zealand and implicitly in former Dominions that are no longer Commonwealth realms. Passed on 11 December 1931, the act, either immediately or upon ratification, effectively both established the legislative independence of the self-governing Dominions of the British Empire from the United Kingdom and bound them all to seek each other's approval for changes to monarchical titles and the common line of succession. It thus became a statutory embodiment of the principles of equality and common allegiance to the Crown set out in the Balfour Declaration of 1926. As the statute removed nearly all of the British parliament's authority to legislate for the Dominions, it had the effect of making the Dominions largely sovereign nations in their own right. It was a crucial step in the development of the Dominions as separate states.
The Union of South Africa is the historical predecessor to the present-day Republic of South Africa. It came into being on 31 May 1910 with the unification of the Cape Colony, the Natal Colony, the Transvaal, and the Orange River Colony. It included the territories that were formerly a part of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State.
The British colonization of the Americas was the history of establishment of control, settlement, and colonization of the continents of the Americas by England, Scotland and Great Britain. Colonization efforts began in the 16th century with failed attempts by England to establish permanent colonies in the North. The first permanent British colony was established in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. Over the next several centuries more colonies were established in North America, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. Though most British colonies in the Americas eventually gained independence, some colonies have opted to remain under Britain's jurisdiction as British Overseas Territories.
The United Kingdom has four legal systems, each of which derives from a particular geographical area for a variety of historical reasons: English law, Scots law, Northern Ireland law, and, since 2007, purely Welsh law. However, unlike the other three, Welsh law is not a separate legal system per se, merely the primary and secondary legislation generated by the Welsh Parliament, interpreted in accordance with the doctrines of English law and not impacting upon English common law. There is a substantial overlap between these three legal systems and the three legal jurisdictions of the United Kingdom: England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Each legal system defaults to its jurisdiction, each of whose courts further that law through jurisprudence. Choice of which jurisdiction's law to use is possible in private law: for example a company in Edinburgh, Scotland and a company in Belfast, Northern Ireland are free to contract in English law. This is not so in public law, where there are set rules of procedure in each jurisdiction. Overarching these systems is the law of the United Kingdom, also known as United Kingdom law. UK law arises from laws applying to the United Kingdom and/or its citizens as a whole, most obviously constitutional law, but also other areas, for instance tax law.
A Commonwealth realm is a sovereign state which has Elizabeth II as its monarch and head of state. Each realm functions as an independent co-equal kingdom from the other realms.
The British Overseas Territories (BOTs), also known as United Kingdom Overseas Territories (UKOTs), are fourteen territories all with a constitutional and historical link with the United Kingdom. They are remnants of the British Empire and do not form part of the United Kingdom itself. Most of the permanently inhabited territories are internally self-governing, with the UK retaining responsibility for defence and foreign relations. Three are inhabited only by a transitory population of military or scientific personnel. They all have the British monarch as head of state.
The Australia Act 1986 is the short title of each of a pair of separate but related pieces of legislation: one an Act of the Commonwealth Parliament of Australia, the other an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. In Australia they are referred to, respectively, as the Australia Act 1986 (Cth) and the Australia Act 1986 (UK). These nearly identical Acts were passed by the two parliaments, because of uncertainty as to whether the Commonwealth Parliament alone had the ultimate authority to do so. They were enacted using legislative powers conferred by enabling Acts passed by the parliaments of every Australian state. The Acts came into effect simultaneously, on 3 March 1986.
The Dominion of New Zealand was the historical successor to the Colony of New Zealand. It was a constitutional monarchy with a high level of self-government within the British Empire.
The Dominion of Newfoundland was a country in eastern North America, today the modern Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It was established on 26 September 1907, and confirmed by the Balfour Declaration of 1926 and the Statute of Westminster of 1931. It included the island of Newfoundland and Labrador, on the continental mainland. Newfoundland was one of the original "dominions" within the meaning of the Balfour Declaration and accordingly enjoyed a constitutional status equivalent to the other dominions of the time.
Within the British Empire, a Crown colony or royal colony was a colony administered by the Government of the United Kingdom. There was usually a Governor, appointed by the Monarch on the advice of the Home (UK) Government, with or without the assistance of a local Council, similar to the Privy Council that advises the Monarch. As the Members of the Councils were appointed by the Governors, there was consequently no local autonomy, and British citizens resident in Crown colonies had no representation in local government. This was in contrast to self-governing colonies, within which the Sovereign state delegated legislature for most local internal matters of governance to elected assemblies, beginning with the House of Burgesses of the colony of Virginia in 1619 and the House of Assembly of the Parliament of Bermuda in 1620. As the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom has never included seats for any of the colonies, there was, and is, consequently no representation at any level of Government for British citizens residing in Crown colonies.
The territorial evolution of the British Empire is considered to have begun with the foundation of the English colonial empire in the late 16th century. Since then, many territories around the world have been under the control of the United Kingdom or its predecessor states. When the Kingdom of Great Britain was formed in 1707 by the union of the Kingdom of Scotland with the Kingdom of England, the latter country's colonial possessions passed to the new state. Similarly, when Great Britain was united with the Kingdom of Ireland in 1801 to form the United Kingdom, control over its colonial possessions passed to the latter state. Collectively, these territories are referred to as the British Empire. Upon much of Ireland gaining independence in 1922 as the Irish Free State, the other territories of the Empire remained under the control of the United Kingdom.
The Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1942 is an Act of the Australian Parliament that formally adopted sections 2–6 of the Statute of Westminster 1931, an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom enabling the total legislative independence of the various self-governing Dominions of the British Empire. With its passage, Westminster relinquished nearly all of its authority to legislate for the Dominions, effectively making them de jure sovereign nations.
The independence of New Zealand is a matter of continued academic and social debate. New Zealand has no fixed date of independence from the United Kingdom; instead, political independence came about as a result of New Zealand's evolving constitutional status. The concept of a national "Independence Day" does not exist in New Zealand.
The Colonial Service, also known as His/Her Majesty's Colonial Service and replaced in 1954 by Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service (HMOCS), was the British government service which administered most of Britain's overseas possessions, under the authority of the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Colonial Office in London. It did not operate in British India, where the same function was delivered by the Indian Civil Service, nor in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, which was administered by the Sudan Political Service, nor in the internally self-governing colony of Southern Rhodesia.
The Constitutional history of Australia is the history of Australia's foundational legal principles. Australia's legal origins as a nation state began in the colonial era, with its legal system reliant initially upon a legal fiction of terra nullius to impose British law upon the colony of New South Wales. As the colonies expanded, Australia gradually began to achieve de facto independence. Over the years as a result the foundations of the Australian legal system gradually began to shift. This culminated in the Australia Act, an act formally ending legal ties with the UK.
The word Dominion was used from 1907 to 1948 to refer to one of several self-governing colonies of the British Empire. "Dominion status" was formally accorded to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, South Africa, and the Irish Free State in at the 1926 Imperial Conference to designate "autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations”. India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ceylon, Kenya, and other former colonies were also dominions for short periods of time. The Balfour Declaration of 1926 recognised the Dominions as "autonomous communities within the British Empire", and the 1931 Statute of Westminster confirmed their full legislative independence. With the dissolution of the British Empire after World War II and the formation of the Commonwealth of Nations, use of the term was formally abandoned at the 1949 Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference and replaced with "member of the Commonwealth" to recognize the full autonomy of members.
The Historical flags of the British Empire and the overseas territories refers to the various flags that were used across the various Dominions, Crown Colonies, Protectorates, territories which made up the British Empire and current Overseas territories. Early flags that were used across the Empire tended to variations of the Red and Blue Ensigns of Great Britain with no colonial badges or coat of arms attached to them. In the first half of the 19th Century, the first colonies started to acquire their own colony badges, but it was not until the UK Parliament passed the Colonial Naval Defence Act 1865 that the colonies were required to apply their own emblems.
The Colony of New Zealand was a British colony that existed in New Zealand from 1841 to 1907, created as a Crown colony. The power of the British Government was vested in the governor of New Zealand, but the colony was granted self-government in 1852. The New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 was passed and the first parliament was elected in 1853; the first responsible government was formed in 1856. The Colony of New Zealand had three capitals: Old Russell (1841), Auckland (1841–1865), and Wellington. In 1907, the colony became the Dominion of New Zealand with a more explicit recognition of self-government within the British Empire.
The Ghana Independence Act 1957 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that granted the Gold Coast fully responsible government within the British Commonwealth of Nations under the name Ghana. The Act received the Royal Assent on 7 February 1957 and Ghana came into being on 6 March 1957.