The High Court of Tynwald is the parliament of the Isle of Man and has an unlimited, but not necessarily exclusive, legislative competence. Tynwald is of Norse origin and over 1,000 years old and is thus the oldest parliament in the world with an unbroken existence. It has two Branches, the Legislative Council and the House of Keys, which sit separately to consider primary legislation but also together for other parliamentary purposes.

a. The Work of Tynwald Court

In order to gain a full understanding of the work of Tynwald Court the information in this chapter should be read in conjunction with chapters: 5. Committees of the Legislature, 6. Business and Procedures of the Three Chambers, and 7. Making Legislation.

i. Procedure

Procedure in Tynwald is controlled by the President of Tynwald in accordance with the Standing Orders of Tynwald,[1] on which his or her interpretation is authoritative.[2]

Tynwald Court, comprising the House of Keys and the Legislative Council sitting together, sits on the third Tuesday of each month from October to July.[3] The sitting begins on Tuesday and continues until the business is completed, usually within one, two or three days. All Members must attend unless leave of absence has been granted by the President.[4]

Sittings begin at 10.30am and continue each day until no later than 8.00pm, although the Court may vote to suspend Standing Orders and continue later.[5] The amount of business determines the number of days required. Additional sittings may occur if summoned by the President or by request of a quorum of either Branch.[6]

At the beginning of a sitting, Members of the House of Keys take their places and stand for the arrival of the Speaker, who enters preceded by a messenger, the Chaplain, and the Clerk of Tynwald. When the Speaker has taken his place, the Members of the Legislative Council enter the chamber. The President of Tynwald is announced and all persons in the chamber stand. All persons remain standing while the Sword of State [7] is placed on the table and the Lord Bishop leads prayers.

During the sitting the President controls proceedings, calling on Members to speak. Those who wish to speak rise in their place or catch the President’s eye to indicate they wish to do so. Members stand to speak and address their remarks to the President. Members refer to each other by reference to the constituency that they represent and by name, or the position they hold, sometimes in Manx.[8]

Members are usually only allowed to speak once during a debate, though the mover of a motion may reply.[9] The same does not apply during Question Time, which is the first scheduled business of the first day.

At the end of a debate the President puts the motion to the Court. The Members say firmly together either ‘Aye’ or ‘No’, and the President announces the result on the basis of the oral response. Any Member may then call for a division and a count which records the way each Member has voted occurs.[10] Since 2006 Tynwald Court has used an electronic voting system. Members vote simultaneously by pressing a button for either ‘Aye’ or ‘No’.[11] The results show on screens in the chamber and are recorded in the Official Report. In some instances, for example an election to select Committee members, there is a secret ballot using ballot papers.[12]

A motion is carried if a majority of both the House of Keys and the Legislative Council, counted separately, are in favour.[13] Where there is an equality of votes in the Legislative Council, the President has a casting vote, but will only vote to ensure the Legislative Council vote is the same as that of the House of Keys.[14] If both Branches are tied, because there is an equality of votes in the House of Keys the motion is considered lost and so the President’s casting vote is used against the motion, which fails.[15] When a majority in each of the Branches have voted differently, in favour or not, a motion is thereby lost.[16] However, if lost in Council, the mover of the motion can use a procedure for a joint vote of all Members at a following sitting.[17]

When the work of the Court, as set out in the Order Paper, is completed the President and the Legislative Council withdraw. The House of Keys may continue if it has any business to consider, though this is unusual. Tynwald stands adjourned until its next monthly sitting.

The business to be dealt with is set out on an Order Paper and Question Paper.[18] The Order Paper is routinely available from midday on the Thursday twelve days before the sitting, and the Question Paper from midday on the Thursday five days before the sitting. Both are available from the Tynwald Library and the Tynwald website, and on the sitting day from the Chambers entrance lobby.

On completion of the prayers the Clerk formally lays the Papers listed on the Order Paper and the sitting begins with Questions, for which the time allotted is two and a half hours inthe first day of the sitting.[19] Questions are listed in a Question Paper and are either for Oral or Written Answer. Members, at the discretion of the President, may ask supplementary questions relating to the original question and the answer received. If there is insufficient time to go through all the Oral Questions they must be answered in writing within 48 hours.

Business is continued, after lunch, at 2.30pm. A wide variety of business comes before Tynwald. Some of the more significant categories of business are:[20]

  • signing of Bills and announcement of Royal Assent;[21]

  • financial motions

  • reports of Government Departments or Tynwald Committees;

  • secondary legislation for approval; and

  • motions.

Tynwald Court is assisted by the Clerk of Tynwald, a lawyer, who sits in the body of the Court with the House of Keys. The Clerk keeps a record of the motions and any amendments moved, and whether these are approved or not. This information is issued as Votes and Proceedings.[22] The Deputy Clerk of Tynwald is also present and sits with the Members of the Legislative Council.

An ‘essentially verbatim’ record of the proceedings is produced by staff of the Official Report (Hansard) using voice recognition technology. As soon as sufficient text is checked and passed for publication – often within hours of the start of the sitting – it is made available on the Tynwald website.

The entire proceedings of the Court are broadcast by Manx Radio (1368MW) and via its website. Since 2014, the proceedings have also been livestreamed via the Tynwald website; the audio files are made available to 'listen again' soon after the sitting.

Details of the current post holders may be found online: Members of Tynwald; The Clerk of Tynwald’s Office; The Lieutenant Governor.

Although the Lieutenant Governor may attend a sitting of Tynwald in Douglas whenever he or she chooses, and is seated in a special section of the Distinguished Strangers’ Gallery, he or she no longer has an official role in proceedings.

The President of Tynwald is the presiding officer at the sittings of Tynwald in Douglas and is elected by the Members of Tynwald from amongst their number.[23] The term is five years.[24]

The President authorises the Order Paper for sittings,[25] and is responsible for controlling the procedure of Tynwald Court, as well as for the authoritative interpretation of its Standing Orders.[26]

The President may determine the start time of sittings,[27] adjournments,[28] and, subject to certain conditions, the President may summon Tynwald to sit at any time or place.[29]

As presiding officer the President remains impartial but has, in the case of a tied vote in the Legislative Council on a division, a casting vote, which is exercised to make the Legislative Council decision agree with that of the House of Keys.[30]

The President, along with the Speaker, signs all Resolutions of Tynwald,[31] certificates of Royal Assent for the Acts,[32] and certificates of promulgation of the Acts on Tynwald Day.[33]

The Deputy President of Tynwald is appointed in the same manner as the President. He or she carries out the same functions as the President of Tynwald in Tynwald Court, whenever the President is absent or unable to act.

Members of Tynwald carry out the work of the Court described above and in chapter 6. The Business and Procedures of the Three Chambers. They ask and answer questions and debate matters of policy and finance before voting to determine the outcome. Members of the House of Keys are representing their constituents, although those who are Ministers are bound by the Ministerial Code when doing this.[34]

Members can also be elected to serve on Committees of Tynwald[35] They may also assist members of the public with presenting Petitions and Memorials, including picking up Petitions for Redress presented on Tynwald Day.[36]

The Clerk of Tynwald, appointed by Tynwald Court,[37] advises the presiding officer, and other Members, on procedure and on the interpretation of Standing Orders. The Clerk is also responsible for the provision of services to Members.

The Deputy Clerk of Tynwald, appointed by Tynwald Court,[38] acts in the absence of the Clerk of Tynwald.[39]

In the absence of both the Clerk of Tynwald and the Deputy Clerk of Tynwald, the person appointed as Third Clerk of Tynwald, or such other person as the President shall designate, shall act.[40]

viii. Messengers 

The Messengers carry out the duties prescribed by the President of Tynwald.[41] In practice they assist in preparing the Court before a sitting and during the sitting they assist Members by passing notes between them and providing refreshments. They may also assist the Clerks.

c. Electing a President of Tynwald

The President is elected in accordance with the Constitution Act 1990 and Standing Order 5.3.

A President is elected whenever the officeholder resigns, reaches the fifth anniversary of his or her tenure, or whenever Tynwald resolves that he or she should cease to hold the office. The President is elected from amongst the elected Members of Tynwald.

The President is elected in much the same way as Members are elected to a Committee of Tynwald: both types of elections are governed by the same Standing Order. Candidates must be proposed and seconded, and they are voted on by the Keys and Council together. The vote is secret. In recent years it has been done electronically, although it may also be done using paper ballots. The candidate who has the majority of the votes of the Members present and voting is elected.

The Deputy President is elected according to the same procedure.

The Tynwald Day Ceremony occurs on 5th July each year, except when that date falls on a Saturday or Sunday, in which case Tynwald Day is the following Monday. The modern ceremony is a continuation of an ancient tradition thought to have been in existence for over one thousand years. Tynwald Court convenes at St. John’s primarily for the purpose of promulgating and captioning Acts which have been given Royal Assent.

The ceremonial occasion begins with a procession comprising the Guard of Honour, Military Band and Standard Bearers along with representatives from local schools, units, branches and organisations. They take up their positions along the Processional Way and on the Tynwald Green for the arrival of the Lieutenant Governor.

Following the arrival of the Lieutenant Governor, and his party, there is an RAF flypast. The Lieutenant Governor then inspects the military and lays a wreath at the War Memorial, after which there is a one minute silence. His Excellency and his party then proceed to the Royal Chapel to join Members of Tynwald, other dignitaries and invited guests for a church service.[42]

After the service in the Royal Chapel, the Members of Tynwald, together with other participants in the Ceremony, proceed to Tynwald Hill along the Processional Way. On arriving at the Hill they take their seats: the Legislative Council sits on the top tier with the Lieutenant Governor and officers in his attendance; the next tier accommodates Members of the House of Keys; the third tier has public officials, civic dignitaries, and religious representatives; and the fourth tier has members of the Church of England clergy and two lecrens for the Deemsters. 

Once all are present the Lieutenant Governor instructs the First Deemster to direct the fencing of the Court. The First Deemster directs the Coroner of Glenfaba and Yn Lhaihder (The Reader) to fence the Court. This Coroner of Glenfaba says in English:

I fence this Court in the name of our Most Gracious Sovereign Lady The Queen. I charge that no person do quarrel, brawl or make any disturbance and that all persons do answer their names when called. I charge this audience to witness this Court is fenced. I charge this audience to witness this Court is fenced. I charge this whole audience to bear witness this Court is now fenced.

This is followed immediately by Yn Lhaihder who says the same in Manx:

Ta mee cur yn Whaiyl shoh fo harey ayns ennym Chiarn Vannin, nagh jean peiagh erbee troiddey, baghyrt ny jannoo boiranys erbee, as dy jean dy chooilley pheiagh freggyrt tra vees eh er ny eam. Ta mee cur recortys er yn eanish shoh dy vel yn Whaiyl shoh fo harey. Ta mee cur recortys er yn eanish shoh dy vel yn Whaiyl shoh fo harey. Ta mee cur recortys er y clane eanish shoh dy vel yn Whaiyl shoh nishtagh fo harey.

The four Coroners of the Isle of Man then proceed up the Hill to take an oath, administered by the First Deemster, in front of the Lieutenant Governor from whom they receive their staves of office. The Lieutenant Governor then calls for the laws to be promulgated saying:

Learned Deemsters, I exhort you to proclaim to the people in ancient form such laws as have been enacted during the past year and which have received the Royal Assent.

The Laws are then read out first in English by the First Deemster and then in Manx by the Second Deemster. All Acts of Tynwald that have received Royal Assent must be read out. If they are not promulgated within eighteen months of receiving Royal Assent they cease to be law.[43]

Following this the Lieutenant Governor invites anyone with a Petition for Redress to present it. Petitioners bring their petitions to the bottom of the Hill where they are collected by the Clerk of Tynwald who presents them to His Excellency.[44]

After the procedings on the Hill, a formal sitting of Tynwald is held in the Chapel, for the Captioning of the Acts, where the President of Tynwald and the Speaker of the House of Keys sign certificates of promulgation for the Acts read out by the Deemsters, followed by any other business which the Court may choose to conduct.

After a General Election there are sittings of the House of Keys at which the twenty-four newly elected Members are sworn in and a new Speaker is elected. Following this the Members may sit in Tynwald.

A sitting of Tynwald is held not less than ten and not more than fourteen days after the General Election to elect a Chief Minister.[45] Nominations must be delivered to the Clerk of Tynwald not less than seven days before the sitting is due to take place. Following that, no less than five days before the sitting, Members nominated must deliver a written statement specifying the policies which, if appointed, they intend to pursue. These statements are circulated to all Members of Tynwald and are laid before the sitting.[46] The effect of laying before Tynwald is to make the written statement a publically available document when the Order Paper is published.

At the sitting, if there is a single candidate, a vote to agree the nomination is taken immediately with Members voting as one body. If the candidate obtains a majority of votes of those present they succeed to the nomination and are appointed formally by the Lieutenant Governor.[47] Where more than one candidate has been nominated an election is held to determine the candidate before the vote to agree the nomination.[48]

During the election, the Keys votes are cast first and the results read out before the Council votes are cast and read out. The results read out at each stage include not only the number of votes recorded for each candidate, but also for which candidate each Member has voted and whether any Member has cast an invalid vote.[49]

If the vote on the election for the nomination, or on the nomination, is not backed by a majority of Members present and voting, the President of Tynwald adjourns the sitting to between 10 and 14 days later, and the process starts again with candidates being nominated to the Clerk of Tynwald for that future sitting. This would continue until a Member obtained the necessary majority.

In the event of the office being vacated by the office holder by death, or resignation, or ceasing to be qualified as a Member of Tynwald, or on losing a vote of ‘No Confidence’, or other circumstance, the process above would be implemented to find a successor to fill the post for the remaining period of the life of the House of Keys.

The Chief Minister nominates the other members of the Council of Ministers from among the Members of Tynwald. Like the Chief Minister they are appointed by the Lieutenant Governor.[50] The Chief Minister assigns Ministers to departments.[51]

Members of Departments are appointed by the Council of Ministers.[52]

Other posts on Statutory Boards and other offices set up by statutory provisions are filled in accordance with those provisions. These vary and include requiring election by Tynwald, or nomination and/or appointment by the Council of Ministers, and/or on nomination of the Appointments Commission.

Council of Ministers Committees may be appointed by the Chief Minister and/or the Council of Ministers; they may include Members who are not Ministers, and government and non-government persons with knowledge and expertise relevant to the remit of the committee. Such committees may follow the parliamentary set up, of committees being either standing committees or temporary.



[1] Available from the Tynwald Library and http://www.tynwald.org.im/business/sto/Pages/default.aspx

[2] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 9.1 (2)–(3)

[3] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 1.1

[4] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 3.1

[5] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 1.2 (1)-(2)

[6] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 1.1 (2)–(4)

[7] The sword signifies the duty of the Sovereign, acting through Tynwald, to protect and defend the people from the incursions of their enemies, in peace and in war.

[8] See Manx Political and Parliamentary Terminology

[9] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 3.25

[10] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 3.18

[11] Standing Orders of Tynwald, Electronic Voting Practice Direction by the President of Tynwald under Standing Orders 3.18(12)& 9.1(3)

[12] See chapter 2.d.i. Election of the Speaker of the House of Keys

[13] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 3.18 (7) – (9)

[14] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 3.18 (11)

[15] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 3.18 (10)

[16] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 3.18 (9)

[17] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 3.19

[18] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 2.2-2.3

[19] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 3.3–3.10

[20] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 2.2(4)

[21] See also Chapter 7. Making Legislation

[22] Available from the Tynwald Library and www.tynwald.org.im

[23] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 9.1(1)

[24] Constitution Act 1990, section 3(1)

[25] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 2.2(1)

[26] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 9.1(3)

[27] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 1.2

[28] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 1.3

[29] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 1.1(2)-(3)

[30] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 3.18(11)

[31] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 10.8

[32] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 10.7

[33] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 2.1(5)

[34] The Government Code, Part 2 The Ministerial Code 2.12-2.13 www.gov.im/lib/docs/cso/corporate/Standards_Conduct/thegovernmentcode.pdf

[35] See chapter 5. Committees of the Legislature

[36] Standing Orders of Tynwald, VI

[37] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 9.2(1)

[38] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 9.3(1)

[39] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 9.3(3)

[40] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 9.3(4)

[41] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 3.36

[42] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 2.1

[43] Promulgation Act 1988, section 3(2)

[44] See chapter 6l.i Petitions for Redress of Grievance

[45] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 1.5

[46] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 2.4A

[47] Cwebsiteouncil of Ministers Act 1990, section 2(2)

[48] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 3.17A(2)

[49] Standing Orders of Tynwald, 3.17B 

[50] Council of Ministers Act 1990, section 3

[51] Council of Ministers Act 1990, section 5

[52] Government Departments Act 1987, section 2