The Estates of the Constitution exist so that there is a separation of powers in a society. This protects the Estates in themselves from interference from outside and from each other. For the individual and the community it provides a robust system of government and rule of law that serve and protect the Island, its institutions, and its people.

Diagram of the Structure of Government
To understand the function of Tynwald, it is important to have a knowledge of the institutions that comprise 'government', in the wider sense, in the Isle of Man.

a. Sovereign Power

i. The Sovereign

The Head of State for the Isle of Man is the British Sovereign. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is a constitutional monarch,[1] under whom the Isle of Man is a Crown Dependency.[2] In other words, the Isle of Man is independent but not sovereign. The Isle of Man is not, and never has been, part of the United Kingdom nor of any of its constituent parts.

The title for the Sovereign in the Isle of Man is 'The Queen, Lord of Man'. This acknowledges that the Crown has subsumed the powers previously held by the feudal Lord. The Coronation Oath and subsequent published titles do not acknowledge this particular title; in the Oath the Isle of Man is one of the "territories".

ii. The Privy Council

The Crown Dependencies (the others are Jersey and Guernsey) communicate with the Queen through the Privy Council. The Sovereign, on the advice of the Prime Minister, formally assigns areas of responsibility to active members of the Privy Council, usually UK Government Ministers. Responsibility for the Crown Dependencies is currently allocated to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, who heads the Ministry of Justice, and by him to one of his Junior Ministers.

The UK Government is responsible for defence and international representation of the Isle of Man.[3] In certain circumstances, the Isle of Man is authorised to conclude its own international agreements by a process of entrustment.[4] It has been agreed that the UK will not act internationally on behalf of the Isle of Man without prior consultation.[5]

Matters for discussion between the United Kingdom and Isle of Man Governments may include:

  • Positions for which the Crown retains the right of appointment: Lieutenant Governor, First Deemster, Second Deemster, Deputy Deemster, High Bailiff and HM Attorney-General;

  • The granting of Royal Assent to Acts of Tynwald;[6]

  • Messages from the Sovereign to whichever recipient is thought appropriate, whether this is an individual or a body, such as Tynwald or the Council of Ministers. Equally, messages may be sent the opposite way.

iii. Lieutenant Governor

The Lieutenant Governor is the personal representative of the Sovereign on the Isle of Man. He or she is appointed by Royal Warrant on the advice of the Secretary of State for Justice. The recruitment process for the Lieutenant Governor is made on merit by fair and open processes.  In 2010, for the first time, the selection process was assigned to a panel of Manx office holders comprising the Chief Minister, the President of Tynwald and the First Deemster.

The term of office of the Lieutenant Governor is at HM The Queen's pleasure but is normally five years. The Royal Warrant sets out the role in broad terms; the following is the current job specification:[7]

  • To be the personal representative and impartial adviser to Her Majesty The Queen, Lord of Man;

  • To represent Her Majesty The Queen on ceremonial occasions, including Tynwald Day;

  • To host Royal and VIP visits and occasions in conjunction with the Island's Government;

  • To play a full and active part in the social and charitable affairs of the Island and assist the Isle of Man Government to promote community activity;

  • To carry out certain executive functions such as the issuing of passports and control of immigration and the exercising of delegated authority to give Royal Assent to a wide range of primary legislation;

  • To make recommendations for certain Crown appointments in consultation with the Island or Church authorities, as appropriate;

  • To make recommendations for official Honours and Awards in consultation with the Island's Honours Committee;

  • To work with the Island's Government to help promote the Island's interests on public and social occasions.

When the new Lieutenant Governor arrives in the Island a special ceremony is held.[8] The Royal Warrant relating to the appointment is read out by the Chief Secretary. The Lieutenant Governor takes hold of the Staff of Government, a long staff og bog oak, and recites the Oath of Allegiance to the Sovereign and the Oath of Office, swearing that she or he will:

    Truly and uprightly deal between the King/Queen and his/her subjects within this Isle, and as indifferently as between party and party as this staff now standeth.

The Lieutenant Governor then signs the Liber Juramentorum, witnessed by the First Deemster, and receives the Seal Public, which is then entrusted to the Chief Secretary.[9]

Should the Lieutenant Governor be absent or subject to temporary incapacity, his functions are carried out by the Deputy Governor, the First Deemster (or if the First Deemster is not able to perform these duties, by the Second Deemster), as provided in the Royal Warrant on the Governor's appointment.

Although no longer head of the Executive nor presiding over Tynwald in Douglas,[10] the Lieutenant Governor still retains a number of important functions:

  • His (or Her) Excellency represents the Sovereign, presiding over the sitting of Tynwald which is held annually at St. John's on Tynwald Day.[11]

  • The Chief Minister is appointed by the Lieutenant Governor on the nomination of Tynwald.

  • All Ministerial warrants of appointment are provided from the Lieutenant Governor on the advice of the Chief Minister. [12]

  • On consulting the Chief Minister, the Lieutenant Governor may dissolve the House of Keys. However, since the fixed five year term was introduced by statute in 1995, this power has not been exercised.[13]

  • Petitions about certain matters, Royal Pardons, and recommendations about royal honours may be made to the Office of the Lieutenant Governor.

  • Proclamations on behalf of the Crown and/or the Sovereign are made by the Lieutenant Governor e.g. announcement of the death of the Sovereign.

  • Upon the accession of a Sovereign, the Lieutenant Governor leads a ceremony at Tynwald Hill, the traditional site of proclamation of a new Sovereign.

  • As provided in the Oath of Office, the Lieutenant Governor is also Captain General, an ancient office in times of conflict that assumes overall control to defend the Island. In practice, as in WWII, Island authorities would also be involved.

  • In the event of a breakdown in the institutions of law and order, the Crown, through the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, may instruct the Lieutenant Governor to restore 'good government'. This has never occurred.

The Governor is given a household to carry out his or her duties and the costs are borne by the Isle of Man Government.

b. Parliament and the Executive

The Second Estate is the Legislature: Tynwald, the parliament of the Isle of Man.

Tynwald claims to be the oldest continuous parliamentary assembly in the world, with a tradition of over 1000 years of meetings being held. As an assembly first in Celtic and later Viking guides, the main business was not legislative (i.e. passing laws). It was the means by which the ruler controlled the community, ensured continuity by nominating successors, and resolved disputes. These more judicial functions, now carried out by the Courts of Justice, are reflected in its formal title of 'The High Court of Tynwald'.

The two Branches of Tynwald also have a long tradition. The Legislative Council has its origins in the Lord's Council, which consisted of officers appointed by the Lord who wre assigned specific duties and were available for him to consult as he wishes. The House of Keys originally consisted of men who, through land ownership and family succession, were known as 'the worthiest men'.[14] Together with the Deemsters they considered matters sent to them by the Lord, giving him advice on the accepted 'law', which assisted him in arriving at a decision or judgement.

Today the Branches sit alone, primarily to consider legislation, and together as Tynwald Court, to consider and approve matters of policy and finance. Those tasked with implementing these policies, whether Ministers or public servants, are answerable to Tynwald and/or its Committees.

Tynwald operates as a consensus system rather than the adversarial system found at Westminster. The almost total absence of party politics in the Island is reflected in the membership of Tynwald, adding to the need to arrive at a majority consensus in approving motions and expenditure. In most cases whilst in Tynwald Court, the Branches vote separately, as they must be in agreement for a motion to pass.

i. Legislative function

Laws began to be written down in the early fifteenth century.[15] The Lord's Council originally took precedence in proposing laws,[16] which were then considered by the House of Keys. This process was largely reversed in the twentieth century, when the composition of the now Legislative Council altered during the 1960s and 1970s.

The consideration of primary legislation is devolved to the two Branches of the main assembly. Once agreed the Bills are signed by all the Members in Tynwald Court before Royal Assent is requested. After Royal Assent is granted and announced in Tynwald Court an Act may come into force. Depending on the terms of the Act it may come into force immediately or later by way of an Appointed Day Order. On occasion Tynwald may also need to approve funding to facilitate this.

At the annual Tynwald Day Ceremony on Tynwald Hill at St. John's on or about the 5th of July, the Acts of Tynwald are promulgated to the people assembled. A formal sitting of Tynwald is held after the Ceremony, to which the Lieutenant Governor is invited, to attest that promulgation was given to those Acts. An Act lapses if it is not promulgated within 18 months of receiving Royal Assent.

As with any parliament, the legitimacy of the actions of Tynwald Court lies not only with the powers, often set down in Acts of Tynwald, given to it by the ultimate source of authority, the Crown in this case, but also the consent of the population. Every five years the twenty four Members of the House of Keys are elected by the Isle of Man electorate. The House, in turn, elects eight of the eleven members of the Legislative Council.

ii. The Executive

Tynwald assigns executive functions to its nominated Chief Minister. At its first sitting, following the five-yearly general elections for Members of the House of Keys, the Chief Minister is nominated by and from the Members of Tynwald for the life of the House of Keys.[17] He is then appointed by the Lieutenant Governor on the basis of Tynwald's nomination. The Chief Minister similarly nominates Ministers, also from Members of Tynwald, to the Departments of Government to sit with him to form the Council of Ministers.[18]

The Council of Ministers is entrusted by Acts of Tynwald and resolutions in Tynwald with duties to serve, and deliver, the Island's needs.[19] Since its inception the Council of Ministers has adopted the doctrine of collective responsibility. However all its major decisions and expenditure must be approved by Tynwald, to which it is answerable. Tynwald may remove the Council of Ministers by passing a vote of no confidence.[20]

Members of Tynwald, other than those appointed as Ministers, can also be appointed by the Council of Ministers to serve as members of Government Departments.[21] Some may also serve, alongside non-Tynwald members, on Statutory Boards that may be regulatory or commercial bodies. A further group of bodies termed 'Offices',[22] e.g. the Office of Human Resources, deal with other matters and may have Tynwald Members, but a series of appeal bodies and/or Tribunals usually do not. Members of the latter are usually appointed after selection by the Appointments Commission, itself appointed by the Council of Ministers under the Tribunals Act 2006.

The Executive structure was last altered in 2014 after a Council of Minister's Report made a series of recommendations.[23] The reforms were intended to make the Government more efficient, streamlined and to reduce costs, and this was done in a variety of ways.  Changes made include a reduction in the numner of Ministers from nine to eight; a reduction in the number of Departments through the abolition of the Department of Community, Culture and Leisure and the amalgamation of the Departments of Health and Social Care into one single entity; the loss of the Office of the Chief Secretary; and the merger of the Manx Electrical Authority and the IOM Water and Sewage Authority to create one Manx Utilities Authority.

In order to create a more joined-up approach to the challenges facing the Island, the coordination of policies and Departments has been facilitated through the creation of a Cabinet Office.[24] This new Office incorporated the Chief Secretary's Office, the Office of Human Resources, Information Systems Division, and Economic Affairs. It also includes the position of Minister for Policy and Reform.

Members who perform an executive role may receive enhancements to their basic salary, based on their responsibilities.[25]

List of Government Departments

Apart from defence and foreign affairs, Tynwald exercises all the responsibilities of any national legislature. Given the comparatively small pool of members of the legislature it is unusual for Members not to serve in any executive capacity. Exceptions are the Presiding Officers, who are statutorily barred and the Lord Bishop and HM Attorney-General. However, Members are not obliged to have an executive role and some choose not to.

Tynwald looks to the Council of Ministers to propose policies, outlines of expenditure, and capital projects.

iii. Scrutiny Role

Any aspect of individual policies, expenditure, and projects may receive scrutiny as the subject of Questions or motions before monthly Tynwald sittings. Tynwald may pass a declaratory resolution that has no statutory effect but carries political weight: 'That Tynwald is of the opinion that...'. Such resolutions can be exercised about policies, expenditure, bodies of government, and operations of any public body.

An alternative to a resolution is for the matter before Tynwald Court to be referred to a Select or Standing Committee for further investigation. Committees may hold private meetings and/or public hearings to investigate matters in more detail than Tynwald can accomplish during the usual sittings. In addition to referrals from the Court, a number of the Standing Committees have a scrutiny remit.[26]

A number of Government documents are published each year and brought before Tynwald for debate. Each February the Isle of Man Budget is published and debate in Tynwald.[27] The Council of Ministers - Tynwald Policy Devisions Report, which details the Government's progress against the resolutions passed by Tynwald, is laid before Tynwald each October.[28]

c. Judiciary

The Courts of Justice are the third Estate of the Constitution.

The Judges of the High Court comprise: The First Deemster, who is also Deputy Governor, as well as Clerk of the Rolls; The Second Deemster; the Judge of Appeal; one or more other Deemsters who can hear cases but are not substitutes for all purposes for the First and Second Deemsters; Judicial Officers - the High Bailiff and Deputy High Bailiff ex officio; and other judicial officers appointed as necessary.

The High Court of Justice is divided into different divisions depending on the nature of the case being heard.

The structure is shown below.[29]


i. Lower Courts

The Courts of Summary Jurisdiction (commonly referred to as Summary Courts) deal with less serious criminal matters and consist of the High Bailiff or Deputy High Bailiff sitting alone or panels of two or (usually) three lay magistrates.

Most criminal cases are dealt with by the High Bailiff, Deputy High Bailiff or lay magistrates.

The Summary Courts' sentencing powers include:

  • the imposition of fines;

  • community service orders;

  • probation orders; or

  • custody up to the summary limit (i.e. usually a maximum of twelve months).

The Magistrates Courts deal with applications relating to:

  • the care and control of children;

  • the enforcement of maintenance;

  • cases of family work involving domestic violence;

  • hearings/sentencing in criminal matters;

  • requests for warrants for arrest and search; and

  • the signing of summonses.

Magistrates also join other courts from time to time.

The Coroner of Inquests is an independent judicial officer who follows laws which apply to coroners and inquests. In the Isle of Man, the Coroner of Inquests is always the High Bailiff or the Deputy High Bailiff. The Coroner of Inquests inquires into deaths which appear violent, unnatural, sudden or unexplained. An inquest is not a trial and the Coroner does not apportion blame.

Other Courts include:

  • Commissions Rogatoire - requests for evidence from foreign jurisdictions;

  • Court of Summary Jurisdiction Financial Provision - maintenance for non-marital children;

  • Treasure Trove - the High Bailiff hears Treasure Trove inquests;

  • Tribunals - the General Registry website gives more information on Tribunals;[30]

  • Licensing - chaired by His Worship the Deputy High Bailiff accompanied by up to four magistrates and is responsible for all on/off licences;

  • Juvenile Court - for those under the age of 17 years when the hearing comes to the court.

ii. The Court of General Gaol Delivery

The Court of General Gaol Delivery, similar to the Crown Court in England, deals with criminal matters of a more serious nature than those in the Courts of Summary Jurisdiction. Cases are transferred for either trial or for sentence, where the sentencing powers of the Summary Court are insufficient. All cases in this court are dealt with by a Deemster.

All criminal trials in the Court of General Gaol Delivery are trials by jury and have either a seven or twelve member jury.

iii. High Court

The High Court is split into two divisions: Civil and Family.

The Civil Division deals with matters relating to civil litigation. The procedures within which a claim can be filed are the:

  • Small Claims Procedure; or

  • Summary Procedure; or

  • Ordinary Procedure; or

  • Chancery Procedure.

The type of procedure chosen for a claim can depend on matters such as: the financial value of the claim; whether a rule requires the use of a specific procedure; or the remedy sought from the court.

The Family Division currently deals with all matters relating to:-

  • divorce;

  • financial provision matters relating to divorce;

  • adoption;

  • children's matters such as contact orders and parental responsibility; and

  • judicial separation.

It also hears other proceedings under the Adoption Act 1984, Children and Young Persons Act 2001, Matrimonial Proceedings Act 2003 and The Rules of the High Court (Matrimonial Proceedings) 2004.

A Petition of Doleance, a means of challenging administrative action, may be lodged when a public body is thought to have acted unlawfully or unfairly. They may be heard in either division of the High Court.

The Manx High Court can hear applications under the Human Rights Act 2001, though this does not obstruct applications directly to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

iv. The Staff of Government (Appeal Division)

This is where appeals are heard from the Civil Division as well as criminal appeals from the Court of General Gaol Delivery and the Courts of Summary Jurisdiction.

The Staff of Government (Appeal Division) consists of two judges of the High Court of Justice of the Isle of Man. This may be His Honour the First Deemster and the Judge of Appeal. This composition, however, is flexible depending upon which judge has sat in the lower court on the matter to be appealed in the respective lower court.

There are also certain instances in which a single judge may sit in the Staff of Government (Appeal Division).

v. Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

Judgments and orders of the Staff of Government (Appeal Division) may be appealed to Her Majesty in Council with either the leave of the Staff of Government (Appeal Division) or the special leave of Her Majesty in Council.



[1] Constitutional monarchy is a form of government in which a king or queen acts as Head of State. The ability to make and pass legislation resides with an elected Parliament, not with the Monarch. The Sovereign governs according to the constitution - that is, according to rules, rather than according to his or her own free will. The United Kingdom does not have a written constitution which sets out the rights and duties of the Sovereign, they are established by conventions (and some statutes): conventions are non-statutory rules which can be just as binding as formal constitutional rules.

[2] Not part of the UK, a self-governing dependency of the Crown, with its own directly elected legislative assembly, administrative, fiscal and legal systems, and courts of law: www.justice.gov.uk/about/crowndependencies.htm; http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/about/moj/our-responsibilities/Background_Briefing_on_the_Crown_Dependencies2.pdf

[3] Agreement between the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Isle of Man regarding the payment of an annual amount to the United Kingdom Government; February 1994, London: HMSO (CM 2449)

[4] For example, having made commitments to the OECD on the exchange of tax information, the Island negotiates tax information exchange agreements (TIEAs) within the terms of Letters of Entrustment issued to the Isle of Man Government under the signature of the appropriate UK Minister.

[5] See ‘Framework for developing the international identity of the Isle of Man’, signed in May 2007 by the Chief Minister and the UK Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (available online: https://www.gov.im/media/622895/iominternationalidentityframework.pdf).

[6] See chapter 7. 'Making Legislation'.

[7] See e.g. https://www.gov.im/about-the-government/offices/cabinet-office/external-relations/crown-services/office-of-lieutenant-governor/

[8] The swearing-in ceremony was held at the Court Room in Castle Rushen until 2016, when it took place at the Isle of Man Courts of Justice. It remains to be seen whether the ceremony will return to Castletown.

[9] The Swearing In..2011, DVD produced by Manx National Heritage for the Chief Secretary's Office

[10] Constitution Act 1990, section 1(2)

[11] Constitution Act 1990, section 1(1)

[12] Government Departments Act 1987, section 2

[13] Representation of the People Act 1995, section 3

[14] JF Gill (ed), The Statutes of the Isle of Man Vol I A.D.1417 to A.D.1824 (London, 1883), p.3

[15] JF Gill (ed), The Statutes of the Isle of Man Vol I A.D.1417 to A.D.1824 (London, 1883). The very first written law, known as the Customary Act of 1417, describes the proceedings of Tynwald Day.

[16] "It is agreed upon by the Generall Councell of the Land with the Consent of the said 24": JF Gill (ed) The Statutes of the Isle of Man Vol I A.D.1417 to A.D.1824 (London, 1883) p.70 and The Report of the Commissioner of Inquiry in 1792 stated "the legislative authority of the country has been vested in the Lord proprietor, the Governor and Council, and the twenty four Keys". The commissioners state that the "Council .... together with the Governor, formed the second branch of the Legislative power in the Island": Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry Part III The Constitution of the Isle of Man (1792).

[17] See chapter 2d.i. Electing a Chief Minister

[18] See chapter 2d.ii Elections to Executive Posts

[19] Council of Ministers Summary of Proceedings available at: https://www.gov.im/about-the-government/government/the-council-of-ministers/council-of-ministers-proceedings/

[20] Council of Ministers Act 1990, section 2(3b)

[21] See chapter 2d.ii Elections to Executive Posts

[22] https://www.gov.im/about-the-government/offices/ 

[23] Smaller, Simpler, Stronger: https://www.gov.im/media/878074/modernising_government.pdf 

[24] https://www.gov.im/about-the-government/offices/cabinet-office/ 

[25] http://www.tynwald.org.im/memoff/remall/Pages/default.aspx

[26] See Chapter 5, 'Committees of the Legislature'; see also http://www.tynwald.org.im/business/committee/Pages/default.aspx

[27] Available from https://www.gov.im/about-the-government/departments/treasury/budget/  

[28] Available from The Tynwald Library and https://www.gov.im/about-the-government/government/the-council-of-ministers/comin-reports/  

[29] From www.courts.im/courtinformation/courtstructure

[30] www.gov.im/registries/Tribunals