Dominion - Definition

Definition

In English common law the Dominions of the British Crown were all the realms and territories under the sovereignty of the Crown. For example, the Order in Council that annexed the island of Cyprus in 1914 provided that:

the said Island shall be annexed to and form part of His Majesty's Dominions, and the said Island is annexed accordingly".

Use of the word Dominion, to refer to a particular territory, dates back to the 16th century, and was used to describe Wales from 1535 to around 1800. Dominion, as an official title, was first conferred on Virginia, circa 1660, and the Dominion of New England, in 1686. These dominions never had semi-autonomous or self-governing status. On the other hand, under the British North America Act 1867, eastern Canada received the status of "Dominion" upon the Confederation in 1867 of several British possessions in North America.

The Colonial Conference of 1907 was the first time that the self-governing colonies of Canada and the Commonwealth of Australia were referred to collectively as Dominions. Two other self-governing colonies, New Zealand and Newfoundland, were also granted the status of Dominions that year. These were followed by the Union of South Africa (1910) and the Irish Free State (1922). At the time of the founding of the League of Nations, the League Covenant made specific provisions for the admission of any "fully self-governing state, Dominion, or Colony", the implication being that "Dominion status was something between that of a ‘Colony’ and a ‘State’."

Dominion status was formally defined in the Balfour Declaration of 1926, which recognised these countries as "autonomous Communities within the British Empire", thus acknowledging them as political equals of the United Kingdom; the Statute of Westminster 1931 converted this status into legal reality, making them essentially independent members of what was then called the British Commonwealth.

Following the Second World War, the decline of British colonialism led to Dominions generally being referred to as Commonwealth realms, the use of the word gradually diminished within these countries after this time. Nonetheless, though disused, it remains Canada's legal title; moreover, the phrase Her Majesty's Dominions is still used occasionally in current-day legal documents in the United Kingdom.

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