No. 422 NAI DT S2485A

Memorandum on state seals by the Department External Affairs for the 1930 Imperial Conference

Dublin, undated 1930

The exercise of the powers of the Sovereign is controlled through a system of State Seals.

The external relations of the Dominions are based on a series of documents signed by the King, all of which (with the exception of Credentials) are issued under Seals controlled by British Ministers. It has been frequently stated that this control of Dominion external relations through the seals is the only real criterion upon which to found a serious judgment as to the international position of the Members of the Commonwealth. The documents referred to are:-

1. Full Powers
2. Ratification of Treaties
3. Exequaturs
4. Consular Commissions.

1 and 2 are passed under the Great Seal. 3 and 4 are signeted by the Foreign Secretary.

A warrant under the Sign Manual counter-signed by the Lord Chancellor or one of the Principle Secretaries of State is necessary for passing any instrument under the Great Seal.


Countersignature by a Minister seems to add nothing to the authority of the Seal or Signet. Instructions to Governors General and Colonial Governors are signed by the King, signeted by the Colonial Secretary, but not countersigned. This procedure was followed in the Commission appointing the present Governor General, though Mr. Healy's Commission had been countersigned. The concession whereby the Dominion Ministers can countersign Exequaturs and Consular Commissions appears to be of no constitutional value to the Dominions.

Governor General

The Letters Patent constituting the office of Governor General were passed under the Great Seal. The Commission appointing the present Governor General was signeted by the Dominion Minister, but not countersigned. The instructions issued to the Governor General are signeted, but have never been countersigned.

The Solution

The seal of the Minister for External Affairs will take the place of the signet of the Foreign Secretary in the case of Exequaturs and Commissions. The State Seal of the Dominion will be used in the case of Ratifications and Full Powers. The State Seal of the Dominion will replace the Colonial Office signet on the Commission appointing the Governor General, and on the new Instructions to be issued to him.

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