citizens or subjects?

#1
Had to fill in my electoral registration form yesterday and it refers throughout to “citizens”. Pedants corner - as we live in a monarchy are we citizens or subjects?
 
#2
Subjects my good man!! ‘Citizen’ is essentially a nice cuddly buzz word used to make sure no one gets offended by the fact we are all plebs. Constitutionally we are subjects as all power rests with the monarch, anything we have or think we have is entirly notional and can be swept away with a single act of parliament. Although passports etc refer to us being citizens if in doubt of whose in charge just remember it is HM Government, HM official opposition, HM armed forces, even HM Stationary office!
 
#3
We hold citizenship of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ierland, and thus are Subjects of it's Monarch, HMQE2.
 
#5
really?_fascinating said:
While in pedants corner - Stationary Office?
Well I'd like to see you move it! :wink:
 
#8
According the BBC though we are techincally still 'subjects' because no peice of paper has been issued saying otheriwse, we are in reality it seems citizens. Confusion as ever!

Are we subjects or citizens?

Home Secretary Charles Clarke has floated the idea of citizenship ceremonies for 18-year-olds. But are British people subjects or citizens? The short answer is that we are probably both - a very British compromise - but it needs some explaining.
A subject is someone "under the dominion of a monarch", says the Oxford English Dictionary.

The subject has no say in how they are treated - although there is an excellent sketch in Monty Python and the Holy Grail on the merits of revolutionary government among the peasantry.

A citizen however is someone who does have rights. In ancient Greece and Rome that meant some citizens took part in government. So, in short, a subject does what he is told - but a citizen has the right to be heard.

Magna Carta

It was in the centuries following the Norman Conquest of 1066 that things really started to change in the British Isles.

In 1215 King John signed the Magna Carta. It was essentially a "code of conduct" for how a monarch should treat barons. But it also conceded the principle that the King's power was not absolute.

This was the first time that the concept of the rights of an individual appears in British law. Over the next 800 years, Britain slowly developed these ideas.

One very early development was Habeas Corpus - the right not to be detained without good reason.

As European philosophers increasingly questioned the nature of authority, more and more power was ceded to Parliament by the Monarchy: Indeed the English Civil War and the French Revolution came down to an argument over the power of the monarch.

In the last 150 years, ordinary people themselves finally got a proper say in the UK, culminating with universal suffrage of men and women by 1928 (only women over 30 got the vote in 1918).

Unwritten constitution

Each and every one of these steps created more rights for the people and more duties upon rulers - the fundamental shift from subject to citizen.

That transfer of power is not however absolute: the unwritten "social contract" declares that society only functions if citizens agree to be subject to the law made in their name - in other words we give up our right to be absolutely free in return for the protection that society provides.


Here's the tricky bit for the UK: When you search for the piece of paper explaining exactly when we stopped being subjects and became citizens, you won't find it, although admittedly passports now use the word citizens (thank you to the correspondents who have pointed this out).
Part of the reason for this confusion is that that our constitution is not neatly contained in a single form like other states.

Nationality laws introduced the word citizen during the break-up of the British Empire - but only as a means to differentiate UK residents from other British subjects for immigration purposes.

But if you do look what you find is a history of rights and duties flowing from Parliament, in the name of the Monarch, which create the concept of citizenship.

And it is the role of the courts in protecting these rights and duties as citizens, rather than just enforcing the state's will, that is key to the idea of modern citizenship.

Take the 1998 Human Rights Act for example, which enforces a European-level convention: If your child cannot get a place at any school anywhere within in reasonable distance of your home, a judge may well decide the local council has breached little Johnny's right to an education.

In other words, a public authority must consider how their decisions affect you, the citizen. If that effect is damaging without good reason, then it shouldn't do it in the first place.

Today, the government talk is very much of "rights and responsibilities" within citizenship. Children get taught it, naturalized immigrants formally celebrate it. Home Secretaries make speeches on it and even employ lots of people to think about how to create it.

All leading politicians generally agree that citizenship is in the interests of a strong society - they just squabble over government's role in achieving it.

So while we are legally "subjects" because there isn't a single piece of paper that says otherwise, the sweep of history essentially finds that we are citizens, albeit in constitutionally different ways to other nations.
 
#9
I and many Paddys have always considered ourselves to be Irish citizens but British subjects. Work that one out.
 
#10
Vonshot said:
I and many Paddys have always considered ourselves to be Irish citizens but British subjects. Work that one out.
Because you swore the oath of allegiance to the British monarch when joining the British army. Thus becoming British subjects, as well as Irish citizens?
 
#11
castlereagh said:
Vonshot said:
I and many Paddys have always considered ourselves to be Irish citizens but British subjects. Work that one out.
Because you swore the oath of allegiance to the British monarch when joining the British army. Thus becoming British subjects, as well as Irish citizens?
Yup, Irish Passport holders but in the service of a foreign power requiring an oath of allegience. Similar to Australians, South Africans or those from "foreign" states etc citizens of other countries but British Subjects by virtue of an oath of allegience
 
#12
I would swear allegience to HM The Queen not to some scumbags like Tony or Bertie, even though Tony gives the real orders
 
#13
I have a very simple world-view; I am the centre
There are only two types of people in my universe, Valuable and Expendable. A Valuable person is someone who's life has a direct, beneficial effect on mine.
Everyone else is Expendable. That includes HM the Queen.
The beauty of this philosophy is that I am untroubled by those weaknesses you humans call guilt, empathy, remorse etc. Anything I do is right, by virtue of the fact that I did it.
There is no God but me.
 
#14
countdokku said:
I have a very simple world-view; I am the centre
There are only two types of people in my universe, Valuable and Expendable. A Valuable person is someone who's life has a direct, beneficial effect on mine.
Everyone else is Expendable. That includes HM the Queen.
The beauty of this philosophy is that I am untroubled by those weaknesses you humans call guilt, empathy, remorse etc. Anything I do is right, by virtue of the fact that I did it.
There is no God but me.
Damn straight!
 
#15
Wouldn't trust you at my back in a fire fight then......In fact I would probably slot you myself as you are no good to the common cause.
 
B

Biscuits_AB

Guest
#16
Vonshot said:
I and many Paddys have always considered ourselves to be Irish citizens but British subjects. Work that one out.
Sure. Just as soon as you've worked it out for yourselves.
 
#18
And then there are those who refused to renew their British passports after 1948 because before then, they were Irish (Free State) citizens (which they didn't accept, but it didn't matter under the unified Commonwealth citizenship pre48) and British subjects, and refused to accept that they would be merely British "citizens" afterwards. Well, if that floats yer boat..
 
#19
castlereagh said:
According the BBC though we are techincally still 'subjects' because no peice of paper has been issued saying otheriwse, we are in reality it seems citizens. Confusion as ever!

Are we subjects or citizens?
Thanks, BBC, for yet another load of ill-informed superficial semi-made-up journalistic toss in answer to a very tricky question.

The true situation, put as interestingly as possible, is this. It’s complicated because the British empire was a big, sprawling complicated thing – created by doing things in a legally more complicated way than sticking a flag in the ground and calling that part of some foreign land part of the mother country (the French approach).

Citizens or subjects?

First of all, the constitutional point. Under our law, Parliament is sovereign. If an Act of Parliament says you are a citizen, you are a citizen, got it? Appealing to some higher law which makes you a subject is just romantic nonsense. You’ll be bleating about human rights next. Tsk. Pshaw!

Halsbury’s Laws of England said:
Prior to 1 January 1949, the status of British subject was the single common nationality of those owing allegiance to the British Crown. The term “British subject” was introduced by the Union with Scotland Act 1706. The status of subject was originally governed by common law, but increasingly modified and codified by statute.
In 1949, that cheerful bunch of people called “British subjects” was divided up into different types. They became, in the main, British subjects plus one of the following designations:

(i) citizen of the United Kingdom and colonies;
(ii) citizen of one of the Commonwealth countries mentioned in the British Nationality Act 1948;
(iii) citizens of the Irish Republic who gave notice to the Secretary of State that they claimed, on certain grounds, to remain a British subject; or
(iv) in rare cases, not a citizen of anywhere and so, temporarily, just a British subject (with a view to becoming a citizen of some new country once it got its act together and sorted out a citizenship law).

You may speculate freely as to why this was done.

So, much of the guff about us all still being British subjects is spouted by those who last looked at this question properly during that period of 1949 to 1982, when citizenship and subjecthood co-existed.

Halsbury’s Laws of England said:
From 1 January 1983, the status of British subject ceased to be a common status enjoyed in addition to citizenship and became a miscellaneous, residual and disappearing category.
Instead, since 1983 all those who were formerly British subjects became one of the following:

(i) a British citizen;
(ii) a British overseas territories citizen;
(iii) a British overseas citizen;
(iv) a holder of British national (overseas) status;
(v) a citizen of some other country; or
(vi) a member of that residual category of plain old British subjects.

The important bit to note is that only British citizens have the right of abode in the UK (plus Commonwealth citizens who already had acquired it prior to 1983).

The only new British subjects now being created are those who are deemed to be so by the Secretary of State because they would otherwise be stateless.

In time, there will be no British subjects left as all the holders of that status will have died off or sorted themselves out with citizenship.

The Irish

Except in rare cases, Irish citizens are not British subjects. Those that are were born before 1949 can make a case to the Secretary of State as to why they should be so but otherwise the opportunity is now gone.

However, English law does treat Irish citizens differently to the nationals of other countries. Unusually, it includes them in that select group of lucky people who are not regarded as aliens. They are therefore treated similarly to Commonwealth citizens, in that they can vote in the UK elections, sit in Parliament, etc.

The Oath of Allegiance

Taking the Oath of Allegiance when you join up does not make you a British subject under English law. It might well do so in some mystical sense (in that you have sworn fealty to the Crown or whatever), however, but to be certain of that you’ll need to consult a seer or a poet, not a lawyer or other type of evil megalomaniac.

Citizens of any country, including Ireland, who serve in the armed forces of the United Kingdom are not British subjects in legal terms. However, they have sworn to defend Her Majesty and obey her generals and officers, and *switches to Paisley voice* may they BURN in HEY-ALL if they fail to do so, BOUND AS THEY ARE by the OATH they swore BEFORE GOD. *wipes away drool*
 

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