The Crown

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The Crown of the
Commonwealth realms
Country Commonwealth realms

Crown Dependencies

British Overseas Territories

The Crown is the state in all its aspects within the jurisprudence of the Commonwealth realms and their subdivisions (such as the Crown Dependencies, overseas territories, provinces, or states). [1] 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 (whereas the monarchy of the United Kingdom and the monarchy of Canada, for example, are distinct although they are in personal union). 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. [2] Thus, in the United Kingdom (one of the Commonwealth realms), 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.


A corporation sole, the Crown is the legal embodiment of executive, legislative, and judicial governance in the monarchy of each commonwealth realm. These monarchies are united by the personal union of their monarch, but they are independent states. The concept of the Crown developed first in England as a separation of the literal crown and property of the kingdom from the person and personal property of the monarch. It spread through English and later British colonisation and is now rooted in the legal lexicon of the United Kingdom, its Crown dependencies, and the other 14 independent realms. It is not to be confused with any physical crown, such as those of the British regalia. [3]

The term is also found in various expressions such as "Crown land", which some countries refer to as "public land" or "state land"; as well as in some offices, such as minister of the Crown, Crown attorney, and Crown prosecutor.


The concept of the Crown took form under the feudal system. [4] Though not used this way in all countries that had this system, in England, all rights and privileges were ultimately bestowed by the ruler. Land, for instance, was granted by the Crown to lords in exchange for feudal services and they, in turn, granted the land to lesser lords. One exception to this was common socage: owners of land held as socage held it subject only to the Crown. When such lands become owner-less they are said to escheat; i.e., return to direct ownership of the Crown (Crown lands). Bona vacantia is the royal prerogative by which unowned property, primarily unclaimed inheritances, becomes the property of the Crown. [note 1] [5]

The monarch is the living embodiment of the Crown and, [6] as such, is regarded as the personification of the state. [note 2] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] The body of the reigning sovereign thus holds two distinct personas in constant coexistence: that of a natural-born human being and that of the state as accorded to him or her through law; the Crown and the monarch are "conceptually divisible but legally indivisible ... [t]he office cannot exist without the office-holder". [note 3] [21] The terms the state, the Crown, [22] the Crown in Right of [jurisdiction], His Majesty the King in Right of [jurisdiction], [23] and similar are all synonymous and the monarch's legal personality is sometimes referred to simply as the relevant jurisdiction's name. [17] [24] (In countries using systems of government derived from Roman civil law, the State is the equivalent concept to the Crown. [25] )

As a consequence, the king or queen is the employer of all government officials and staff (including the viceroys, judges, members of the armed forces, police officers, and parliamentarians), [note 4] the guardian of foster children ( Crown wards ), as well as the owner of all state lands ( Crown land ), buildings and equipment (Crown-held property), [27] state-owned companies ( Crown corporations ), and the copyright for government publications ( Crown copyright ). [28] This is all in his or her position as sovereign, not as an individual; all such property is held by the Crown in perpetuity and cannot be sold by the sovereign without the proper advice and consent of his or her relevant ministers.

The Crown also represents the legal embodiment of executive, legislative, and judicial governance. While the Crown's legal personality is usually regarded as a corporation sole, [29] it can, at least for some purposes, be described as a corporation aggregate headed by the monarch. [30] [31]

Divisibility of the Crown

Historically, the Crown was considered to be indivisible. [32] Two judgments—Ex parte Indian Association of Alberta (EWCA, 1982) and Ex parte Quark (House of Lords, 2005)—challenged that view. Today, the Crown is considered separate in every country, province, state, or territory, regardless of its degree of independence, that has the shared monarch as part of the respective country's government, though limitations on the power of the monarch in right of each territory vary according to relevant laws, thus making the difference between full sovereignty, semi-sovereignty, dependency, etc. The Lords of Appeal wrote: "The Queen is as much the Queen of New South Wales and Mauritius and other territories acknowledging her as head of state as she is of England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom." [33]

Commonwealth realms

Charles III is the living embodiment of the Crown in each of his Commonwealth realms 2019 Reuniao Bilateral com o Principe Charles - 48948389972 (cropped).jpg
Charles III is the living embodiment of the Crown in each of his Commonwealth realms

The Crown in each of the Commonwealth realms is a similar, but separate, legal concept. To distinguish the institution's role in one jurisdiction from its place in another, Commonwealth law employs the expression the Crown in right of [place]; for example, the Crown in right of the United Kingdom, [34] [35] [36] [37] the Crown in right of Canada, the Crown in right of the Commonwealth of Australia, etc. Because both Canada and Australia are federations, there are also Crowns in right of each Canadian province and each Australian state. [38]

The Crown's powers are exercised either by the monarch personally or by his or her representative in each jurisdiction, on the advice of the appropriate local ministers, legislature, or judges, none of which may advise the Crown on any matter pertinent to another of the Crown's jurisdictions.

New Zealand

In New Zealand the term "The Crown" is used to mostly mean the authority of government; its meaning changes in different contexts. [39] [40] In the context of people considering Treaty of Waitangi claims, professor of history Alan Ward defines the Crown as "the people of New Zealand – including Maori[ sic ] themselves – acted through elected parliament and government." [41]

Crown Dependencies

In the Bailiwick of Guernsey, legislation refers to the Crown in right of the Bailiwick, [42] and the Law Officers of the Crown of Guernsey submitted that "[t]he Crown in this context ordinarily means the Crown in right of the république of the Bailiwick of Guernsey" [43] and that this comprises "the collective governmental and civic institutions, established by and under the authority of the Monarch, for the governance of these Islands, including the States of Guernsey and legislatures in the other Islands, the Royal Court and other courts, the Lieutenant Governor, Parish authorities, and the Crown acting in and through the Privy Council". [44] This constitutional concept is also worded as the Crown in right of the Bailiwick of Guernsey. [45]

In the Bailiwick of Jersey, statements by the Law Officers of the Crown define the Crown's operation in that jurisdiction as the Crown in right of Jersey, [46] with all Crown land in the Bailiwick of Jersey belonging to the Crown in right of Jersey and not to the Crown Estate of the United Kingdom. [47] The Succession to the Crown (Jersey) Law 2013 defined the Crown, for the purposes of implementing the Perth Agreement in Jersey law, as the Crown in right of the Bailiwick of Jersey. [48]

Legislation in the Isle of Man also defines the Crown in right of the Isle of Man as being separate from the Crown in right of the United Kingdom. [49]

British Overseas Territories

Following the Lords' decision in Ex parte Quark, 2005, it is held that the Queen in exercising her authority over British Overseas Territories does not act on the advice of the government of the UK, but in her role as Queen of each territory, with the exception of fulfilling the UK's international responsibilities for its territories. The reserve powers of the Crown for each territory are no longer considered to be exercisable on the advice of the UK government. To comply with the court's decision, the territorial governors now act on the advice of each territory's executive and the UK government can no longer disallow legislation passed by territorial legislatures. [50]

In the courts

In criminal proceedings, the state is the prosecuting party; the case is usually designated as R v [Defendant], where R can stand for either Rex (if the current monarch is male) or Regina (if the monarch is female) against the defendant. For example, a criminal case against Smith might be referred to as R v Smith, and verbally read as "the Crown against Smith". On the indictment notice, it may state "The King (or The Queen) - v - Defendant" as well as "R v Defendant" (e.g. R v Tarrant, [51] which also stated The Queen v Tarrant)".

The Crown is in general immune to prosecution and civil lawsuits, so "R" is rarely (albeit sometimes [52] ) seen on the right hand side of the 'v' in the first instance. To pursue a case against alleged unlawful activity by the government, a case in judicial review is brought by the Crown against a minister on the application of a claimant. The titles of these cases now follow the pattern of "R (on the application of X) v Y", notated as "R (X) v Y" for short. Thus R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union is R (on the application of Miller and other) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, where "Miller" is Gina Miller, a citizen. Until the end of the twentieth century, such case titles used the pattern R v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, ex parte Miller. Either form may be abbreviated R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

In Scotland, criminal prosecutions are undertaken by the Lord Advocate (or the relevant Procurator Fiscal) in the name of the Crown. Accordingly, the abbreviation 'HMA' is used in the High Court of Justiciary for "His/Her Majesty's Advocate" in place of Rex or Regina, as in HMA v Al Megrahi and Fahima .

In Australia, each state uses R in the title of criminal cases and The King (or The Queen) in criminal appeal cases (i.e., the case name at trial would be R v Smith; if appealed, the case name would be Smith v The King). Judges usually refer to the prosecuting party as simply "the prosecution" in the text of judgments (only rarely is The Crown used in the text, and never R). In civil cases where the Crown is a party, it is a customary to list the appropriate government Minister as the party instead. When a case is announced in court, the Clerk or Bailiff refers to the crown orally as "Our Sovereign Lord the King" (or "Our Sovereign Lady the Queen").

In New Zealand court reporting, news reports will refer to the prosecuting lawyer (often called a Crown prosecutor, as in Canada and the United Kingdom) as representing the Crown, usages such as "For the Crown, Joe Bloggs argued..." being common.

This practice of using the seat of sovereignty as the injured party is analogous with criminal cases in several countries:

The Crown can also be a plaintiff or defendant in civil actions to which the government of the Commonwealth realm in question is a party. Such Crown proceedings are often subject to specific rules and limitations, such as the enforcement of judgments against the Crown.

Qui tam lawsuits on behalf of the Crown were once common but have been unusual since the Common Informers Act 1951 ended the practice of allowing such suits by common informers.

Crown forces

The term crown forces has been applied by militant Irish republicans to British-authorised security forces on the island of Ireland, including the British Armed Forces and armed police such as the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which are seen as enemy combatants or an occupation force. [note 5] [56] [57] [58] Irish nationalists may apply crown forces to earlier forces raised by the Dublin Castle administration at intervals since the Tudor conquest of Ireland to suppress various Irish uprisings. [59]

See also


  1. Jurisdictions in which this prerogative does not apply include Cornwall, where unowned property becomes the property of the Duke of Cornwall, and Lancashire, where it becomes the property of the Duke of Lancaster.
  2. The sovereign has been described by Eugene Forsey as the "symbolic embodiment of the people—not a particular group or interest or party, but the people, the whole people"; [7] his daughter, Helen Forsey, said of his opinion on the Crown: "For him, the essence of the monarchy was its impartial representation of the common interests of the citizenry as a whole, as opposed to those of any particular government." [7] The Department of Canadian Heritage said the Crown serves as the "personal symbol of allegiance, unity and authority for all Canadians," [8] [9] a concept akin to that expressed by King Louis XIV: "l'État, c'est moi", or, "I am the state". [10] Robertson Davies stated in 1994: "the Crown is the consecrated spirit of Canada," [11] and past Ontario chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada Gary Toffoli opined: "The Queen is the legal embodiment of the state at both the national and the provincial levels ... she is our sovereign and it is the role of the Queen, recognized by the constitutional law of Canada, to embody the state." [12]
  3. As Peter Boyce put it: "The Crown as a concept cannot be disentangled from the person of the monarch, but standard reference to the Crown extends well beyond the Queen's person." [20]
  4. The Supreme Court found in the 1980 case Attorney General of Quebec v. Labrecque that civil servants in Canada are not contracted by an abstraction called "the state", but rather they are employed by the monarch, who "enjoys a general capacity to contract in accordance with the rule of ordinary law." [26]
  5. In Danny Morrison's words, "[t]he term 'security forces' suggests legitimacy, which is why republicans prefer terms like 'the Brits' or 'the Crown Forces', which undermines their authority." [55]

Further reading

Related Research Articles

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  54. "Karan Singh vs The State Of Uttar Pradesh on 2 March, 2022". Retrieved 22 July 2022.
  55. Morrison, Danny (24–26 January 2004). "Saving 'Bobby Sands Street' > Words of Freedom". Irish History. Irlandinitiative Heidelberg. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  56. Hawes-Bilger, Cordula (2007). War Zone Language: Linguistic Aspects of the Conflict in Northern Ireland. Francke. p. 148. ISBN   9783772082009.
  57. O'Neill, Conor (2004). "Terrorism, insurgency and the military response from South Armagh to Falluja". The RUSI Journal. 149 (5): 22–25. doi:10.1080/03071840408523120. ISSN   0307-1847. S2CID   152582870.
  58. Tomaney, John (2000). "End of the Empire State? New Labour and Devolution in the United Kingdom". International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 24 (3): 675–688. doi:10.1111/1468-2427.00271. ISSN   0309-1317.
  59. Ferriter, Diarmaid (1 November 2012). Ambiguous Republic: Ireland in the 1970s. Profile Books. p. 247. ISBN   9781847658562 . Retrieved 21 August 2015. Because of the events of the War of Independence, the phrase 'Crown Forces' came to represent something abhorrent in the Republican narrative.