How real is Her Majesty's rule over 16 states?

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The Independent Online
Christopher Bellamy

Defence Correspondent

Even if Australia decides to reject the monarchy, the "Queen's Realms" will still include a land area of about four and half million square miles. Including the United Kingdom and Australia, it comprises 16 of the Commonwealth's 53 sovereign states. They range from vast states such as the former dominions of Australia and Canada through to small islands like St Christopher and Nevis, and they are all constitutional monarchies, with the Queen and her Privy Council as the ultimate authority. Their heads of government, including the UK's, are prime ministers.

The constitutional position is complicated: when the Queen is in Australia, she is there as Queen of Australia, not as Queen of Britain and Northern Ireland. However, the Queen's authority is increasingly recognised as an anachronism, going back to the days when the Queen was direct head of state. Most of the Caribbean countries now want to sever contact with the British monarchy.

The other Commonwealth states are either republics, with a president or executive president as head of state (like Nigeria), or "national monarchies", of which there are five: Brunei, Lesotho, Malaysia, Swaziland and Tonga. If Australia were to become a republic, it would join 32 others in the Commonwealth, reducing the Queen's Realms to 15, but practical effects would be minimal.

There are also numerous dependencies with a total population of about 150,000, including Gibraltar and Montserrat. They are not members of the Commonwealth in their own right, but are dependent on states which are.

The 16 Queen's realms, apart from the UK itself, all have governors-general, who represent the Queen as head of state. The Governor-General in Australia is Sir William Deane. In practice, the latter's functions are largely ceremonial. Governor-generals are appointed by the Queen and have no political, legislative or executive authority. For most people the only practical role served by the link with the Queen is as a route for final appeal against death sentences. This link has increasingly become a problem, however, because it complicates human rights issues.

Jamaica is a case in point. The Queen is represented by Sir Howard Cooke; the head of government is the Prime Minister, PJ Patterson, who is elected in much the same way as Tony Blair in Britain. Jamaica has its own privy council, the highest court in the land, but an appellant has the right of appeal to the Queen's Privy Council.

"The death-row Privy Council appeal is one of the most infamous uses", said Mischa Mills of the Commonwealth Secretariat. As a Jamaican - and therefore a Commonwealth citizen - she has the right to vote in the UK, but not the right to a British passport.

Fiji, which left the Commonwealth some years ago, wants to rejoin and will do so unless other members object. This would mean Fiji accepting the Queen as head of the Commonwealth, but probably not as head of state.

Realms of recognition

The following constitutional monarchies recognise the Queen as Head of State:

Antigua/Barbuda; Australia; Bahamas; Barbados; Belize; Canada; Grenada; Jamaica; New Zealand; Papua New Guinea; St Christopher Nevis; St Lucia; St Vincent and the Grenadines; Solomon Islands; Tuvalu; United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and its dependencies.

Within the Commonwealth there are also 32 republics and five indigenous monarchies. The Queen's only relationship with these countries is as head of the Commonwealth