British subject

From Academic Kids

A British subject is a person who holds a certain form of nationality under the British Nationality Act 1981.


Before 1983

Prior to 1983, when the 1981 Act came into force, the term "British subject" was synonymous with the term "Commonwealth citizen". A British subject was any person who was:

  • a Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies;
  • a citizen of any other Commonwealth country; and
  • one of a limited number of "British subjects without citizenship".

In the third category were mainly people born during British rule in the Republic of Ireland, India and Pakistan (all of which gained independence before 1949, when the status of Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies was introduced) who did not acquire citizenship of their country or any other Dominion (in the case of those born in India and Pakistan), or who applied after 1949 for restoration of their British subject status (for those connected with Ireland).

Hence, from 1949 to 1982, a person born in London, England, would have been a British subject and Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, while someone born in Sydney, Australia, would have been a British subject and Citizen of Australia. Not all Commonwealth countries used the term "British subject", most preferring the term "Commonwealth citizen".

Since 1983

In 1983, Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies became either British Citizens, British Dependent Territories Citizens or British Overseas Citizens, and the use of the term "British subject" was discontinued for all persons who fell into these categories, or who had a national citizenship of any other part of the Commonwealth. The category of "British subjects" now includes those people formerly known as "British subjects without citizenship", and no other.

Although the laws of some Commonwealth countries such as Australia continued to use the old term "British subject" instead of "Commonwealth citizen" for a few years after 1983, the 1981 Act provides that as far as UK law is concerned, no person shall be a British subject except as provided by the Act.

The status of British subject cannot now be transmitted by descent, and will become extinct when all existing British subjects are dead.

Other terms

Although the term "British subject" now has a very restrictive statutory definition, there is no problem with the word "subject" per se. Accordingly, nationals of countries which acknowledge Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State may still be referred to as "Her Majesty's subjects", while British nationals may accurately (if circuitously) be described as "subjects of Her Majesty in right of the United Kingdom".

See also


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