Statutes of Westminster

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Westminster, statute of, 1931. The immediate cause of the statute was the complaint of Mackenzie King, prime minister of Canada, that the governor-general had acted unconstitutionally in 1926 in refusing him a dissolution. This led the imperial conference of that year to discuss constitutional relationships. Balfour, philosopher by inclination, defined Britain and the dominions as ‘autonomous communities, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another’. The statute of Westminster, 22 Geo. V c. 4, confirmed this position, leaving the crown and membership of the Commonwealth as the only link. Governor-generals were selected on the advice of the dominion's prime minister and the Westminster Parliament specifically gave up any claim to legislate for a dominion, save at its own request. Cosgrave, the prime minister of the Irish Free State, gave assurances that the new powers would not be used to change the 1921 settlement. His successor, De Valera, did exactly that and a trade war ensued. The bonds of empire were tenuous indeed.

J. A. Cannon

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Westminster, statute of, 1290. The statute 18 Edw. I, known as Westminster III, was intended to prevent magnates being deprived of their feudal rights, such as escheat, marriage, or wardship, by the sale of estates. It was declared that, on sale, the same feudal rights must continue and that land could not ‘come into Mortmain’. The statute is often known by the opening words ‘Quia emptores’ (‘because purchasers’). It is generally accepted that the statute failed to hold the position.

J. A. Cannon

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Westminster, statute of, 1275. The first statute of Westminster, promulgated in Edward I's first Parliament in 1275, was a great survey of the existing law, whose 51 clauses dealt with a vast variety of problems. The intention was to redress some of the grievances which had been felt during the new king's absence and which had been revealed by the hundred roll inquiries of 1274–5. Among the items mentioned were shipwrecks, elections, rapes, coroners, bail, cattle-rustling, wardship, tolls, feudal aids, and guardianship. The statute revealed a more positive attitude towards law, accepting the need to modify and adapt it.

J. A. Cannon

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Westminster, statute of, 1285. The lengthy statute 13 Edw. I, usually known as Westminster II, was designed to remedy miscellaneous grievances at law. The most important provisions were to tighten up the donor's rights over gifts of property; to improve the lord's command of services due to him by enabling him to sue in the royal courts; to protect the rights of the owners of advowsons; and to increase the security of property by imprisoning bailiffs suspected of dishonesty in royal gaols. The statute was part of a determined attempt by Edward I to regulate a mass of law and custom and impose fairer solutions.

J. A. Cannon

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Westminster, Statutes of English Acts in the reign of Edward I. The First (1275) and Second (1285) Statutes enshrined Edward's extensive overhaul of medieval English law. A further statute of 1290 is sometimes called the Third Statute of Westminster. The Statute of Westminster of 1931 granted autonomy to the dominions in the British Empire.