The Crown is the state in all its aspects within the jurisprudence of the Commonwealth realms and their sub-divisions (such as Crown dependencies, provinces or states), although the term is not only a metonym for the State. The Crown is a corporation sole that represents the legal embodiment of executive, legislative, and judicial governance in the monarchy of each country. These monarchies are united by the personal union of their monarch, but they are separate as states. The concept of the Crown developed first in the Kingdom of England as a separation of the literal crown and property of the nation state from the person and personal property of the monarch. The concept spread through English and later British colonisation and is now rooted in the legal lexicon of the other 15 independent realms and the three Crown dependencies. In this context it should not be confused with any physical crown, such as those of the British royal regalia.
The term is also found in 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 (other terms being district attorney, state prosecutor, or public prosecutor).
The concept of the Crown took form under the feudal system. 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. The Crown as ultimate owner of all property also owns any property which has become bona vacantia.
The monarch is the living embodiment of the Crown and, as such, is regarded as the personification of the state. 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". The terms the state, the Crown, the Crown in Right of [jurisdiction], Her Majesty the Queen in Right of [jurisdiction], and similar are all synonymous and the monarch's legal personality is sometimes referred to simply as the relevant jurisdiction's name. (In countries using systems of government derived from Roman civil law, the State is the equivalent concept to the Crown.)
As such, 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), the guardian of foster children (Crown wards), as well as the owner of all state lands (Crown land), buildings and equipment (Crown held property), state owned companies (Crown corporations), and the copyright for government publications (Crown copyright). This is all in his or her position as sovereign, and 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, it can, at least for some purposes, be described as a corporation aggregate headed by the monarch.
Historically, the Crown was considered to be indivisible. 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 local 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."
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, 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.
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.
In Jersey, statements by the Law Officers of the Crown define the Crown's operation in that jurisdiction as the Crown in right of Jersey, 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. 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.
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.
In Guernsey, legislation refers to the Crown in right of the Bailiwick, 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" 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." This constitutional concept is also worded as the Crown in right of the Bailiwick of Guernsey.
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 on 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.
In criminal proceedings, the state is the prosecuting party and is usually designated on the title or name of a case as "R v" – where R can stand for either Rex (if the current monarch is male) or Regina (if the monarch is female) versus 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".
Often cases are brought by the Crown according to the complaint of a claimant. The title of the case then follows 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.
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 Queen (or The King) 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 Queen). 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 Lady the Queen" (or "Our Sovereign Lord the King").
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 the United States, where the format is "the People" or "the State v. [defendant]" (e.g., People of the State of New York v. LaValle or Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Brady) under the doctrine of popular sovereignty. In Federal criminal cases, it is "United States v. [defendant]," as in United States v. Nixon.
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.
The term Crown forces has been applied by physical force Irish republicans to British-authorised security forces on the island of Ireland, including the British Armed Forces and armed police such as the Royal Irish Constabulary and Royal Ulster Constabulary, which are seen as enemy combatants or an occupation force. Irish nationalist historical narrative 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.