Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Dominion Definition:

A self-governing colony of the British Empire (now the British Commonwealth).

Related Terms: United Kingdom, Great Britain

An English rendering of the Latin term dominium; meaning ownership; as in a territory over which another asserts ownership.

In Canada, the 1867 British North America Act described the central, federal authority as the Dominion of Canada.

In his 1913 commentary entitled Chapters on the Law Relating to the Colonies, Charles Tarring wrote:

"The self-governing colonies of Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa are styled Dominions and their affairs are dealt with in the Dominion Department f the Colonial Office (of the British government)... The other colonies are called Crown colonies."

dominion stampIn the first edition of his book on constitutional law, Peter Hogg wrote:

"The term dominion gained currency outside Canada in the early 1900s to denote the self-governing countries of the British empire. Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa by then enjoyed a substantial measure of self-government, and it did not seem appropriate to describe them as colonies. In order to distinguish them from more dependent territories of the (British) empire, they came to be called Dominions....

"After the Second World War, the term dominion became unfashionable. It was thought to carry a colonial connotation.... (T)he term dominion has generally been superceded by the term member of the (British) Commonwealth...."

In Law v Routledge, the issue was the meaning of the words British Dominions as used in the Copyright Act.

The term was taken to include:

"... all parts of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the Island of Jersey and Guernsey, all parts of the East and West Indies, and al the colonies, settlements and possession of the (English) Crown which are or hereafter may be acquired."


  • Hogg, Peter, Constitutional Law of Canada (Toronto: Carswell Company Ltd., 1977), page 35
  • Law v Routledge, 35 L.J. Ch. 114 918 (1866)
  • Tarring, Charles, Chapters on the Law Relating to the Colonies (London: Stevens and Haynes, 1913), page 2

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