Historical background information on nationality

Historical background information on nationality

British nationality remains one of the most complex part of British law, due to changes in the Nationality Law’s as well as countries gaining their independence.

The history of British nationality law falls into 4 periods, which are marked by key pieces of legislation:

  • before 1915;
  • between 1915 and 1948;
  • between 1949 and 1983;
  • after 1983.

The 1948 Act, which came into force on 1 January 1949, introduced the status of citizen of the UK and Colonies (CUKC) whilst retaining the term British subject to cover every citizen of a Commonwealth country, including the UK and the Colonies. Between 1947 and 1951, the 9 Commonwealth countries which became independent (for nationality purposes) on 1 January 1949 introduced their own citizenship laws.

The dates of the citizenship laws were as follows:

  • Australia – 26 January 1949.
  • Canada – 1 January 1947.
  • Ceylon – 1 January 1949.
  • India – 26 January 1950.
  • Newfoundland – 31 March 1949.
  • New Zealand – 1 January 1949.
  • Pakistan – 13 April 1951.
  • South Africa – 2 September 1949.
  • Southern Rhodesia – 1 January 1950.
  • UK – 1 January 1949.

Persons closely connected with the UK or existing British territories remained British subjects but acquired the additional status of CUKC. In some cases, both CUKC and the citizenship of one or more independent Commonwealth countries was acquired.

For example a person to acquire British nationality by descent, the following is applicable:

Citizenship by descent

(1)Subject to the provisions of this section, a person born after the commencement of this Act shall be a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by descent if his father is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies at the time of the birth:

Provided that if the father of such a person is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by descent only, that person shall not be a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by virtue of this section unless—

(a)that person is born or his father was born in a protectorate, protected state, mandated territory or trust territory or any place in a foreign country where by treaty, capitulation, grant, usage, sufferance, or other lawful means, His Majesty then has or had jurisdiction over British subjects ; or

(b)that person’s birth having occurred in a place in a foreign country other than a place such as is mentioned in the last foregoing paragraph, the birth is registered at a United Kingdom consulate within one year of its occurrence, or, with the permission of the Secretary of State, later ; or

(c)that person’s father is, at the time of the birth, in Crown service under His Majesty’s government in the United Kingdom ; or

(d)that person is born in any country mentioned in subsection (3) of section one of this Act in which a citizenship law has then taken effect and does not become a citizen thereof on birth.

(2)If the Secretary of State so directs, a birth shall be deemed for the purposes of this section to have been registered with his permission notwithstanding that his permission was not obtained before the registration.

The policy also looks at legitimising the birth, as the BNA Act 1948 states the following:

Legitimated children

(1)A person born out of wedlock and legitimated by the subsequent marriage of his parents shall, as from the date of the marriage or of the commencement of this Act, whichever is later, be treated, for the purpose of determining whether he is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, or was a British subject immediately before the commencement of this Act, as if he had been born legitimate.

(2)A person shall be deemed for the purposes of this section to have been legitimated by the subsequent marriage of his parents if by the law of the place in which his father was domiciled at the time of the marriage the marriage operated immediately or subsequently to legitimate him, and not otherwise.

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