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The Offshore Establishment of Religion: Church and Nation on the Isle of Man

  • Augur Pearce

The public religion of the Isle of Man is protestant Christianity in the liturgical tradition of the English Prayer Book. The religious establishment is headed by a bishop, who has been since 1541 subject to the oversight of the Archbishop of York.

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1 Bishoprics of Chester and Man Act 1541 (33 Hen 8. c 31) (W).

2 See for instance the preamble to the Ecclesiastical Licences Act 1533 (25 Hen 8. c21) (W).

3 Attorney-General v Dean and Chapter of Ripon Cathedral [1945] Ch 239 at 245, [1945] 1 All ER 479 at 483.

4 The declaration to this effect by King Henry IV on his accession, following the seizure of the Island by his supporters from the officers of William le Scrope, last claimant through the ancient Norse line, may not satisfy historians; but it is consistent with the way in which English monarchs, Parliaments and courts have since regarded Man.

5 The incapacity of tynwald to amend or contradict applicable parliamentary legislation, long accepted on the part of both Crown advisers and Manx judges, has become the subject of debate during the past twenty years. It has been challenged in obiter dicta and the passing of some insular Acts and Measures—for example the Statute Law Revision Measure (Isle of Man) 1994 purports to modify a requirement of London Gazette publication in the Church of England (Ecumenical Relations) Measure 1988 (W). But no serious policy challenge has been made, such as would be likely to bring the question before Parliament or the Privy Council for authoritative resolution.

6 The conquest of Wales by Edward I, and of Berwick by Edward III, left these territories initially in a position similar to the Isle of Man. But English common law replaced Welsh customary law under Henry VIII, and the Scots law formerly applicable in Berwick under James I. Both territories gained representation in the House of Commons. Welsh bishops sat in the Lords, and the process was completed by terminological incorporation under the Wales and Berwick Act 1746 (20 Geo 2, c 42) (W). While a new chapter began for Wales at the passing of the Welsh Church Act 1914 (W), Berwick remains fully integrated with England to this day. None of these later developments took place in relation to Man.

7 The leading judicial statement of this rule in the Manx context is Attorney-General v. Harris and Mylrea (Isle of Man Examiner, 13th October 1894).

8 Submission of the Clergy Act 1533 (25 Hen 8, c 19) (W).

9 Ecclesiastical Licences Act 1533 (25 Hen 8, c 21) (W).

10 Examples are cited in the author's article ‘The Independence of the Manx Church’, recently published online in Studeyrys Manninagh (Electronic Journal of the Centre for Manx Studies, Douglas);

11 Church Assembly Bill 1924.

12 The Home Office view quoted here appears in its file HO45/16537 (Public Record Office, London); it was stated in early 1928 shortly after considering Chancellor Errington's reasoning, first expressed in an Opinion written jointly with Sir William Kiffin Taylor and F.H. Maughan QC for the Church of England Pensions Board.

13 Re Robinson deceased., Judgment delivered 30 Jaunary 1936. The full text is set out in young, G.V.C., Subject Guide to, and Chronological Table of the Acts of the Parliaments of England, Great Britain, the United Kingdom and of Northern Ireland extending or relating to the Isle of Man (including Church Assembly and General Synod Measures) 1350–1975 (1st edn, Douglas 1978), 1326.

14 See ‘The Independence of the Manx Church’, note 10 above.

15 Church Assembly Act 1925.

16 Church (Application of General Synod Measures) Act 1979.

17 Church Legislation Procedure Act 1993.

18 Church Act 1969, extending the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963 (W) with modifications. Until 1765 the uncertain effect of the Bishoprics of Chester and Man Act 1541 had led to rivalry between the principal insular courts and the Chancery Court of York over appeals from Manx episcopal courts. Neither was in any event, the final instance: appeals would have lain from the Lord's courts for the Island to the King in Council, and from York to the royal Court of Delegates.

19 Appointment of Bishops Act 1533 (25 Hen 8. c 20) (W).

20 New parishes and districts created under nineteenth and twentieth century legislation have only two churchwardens: see generally the Church (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure (Isle of Man) 1990.

21 Burials Act 1986.

22 The only civil officer at parish level is the Captain of the Parish, formerly responsible under the Governor for the local militia, and who now summons certain public meetings and may act as a returning officer.

23 Towns Act 1852.

24 Local Government Amendment Act 1894.

25 Church Act 1880, ss 10–19, 39; Church Act 1938.

26 Church Commissioners' schemes did require confirmation by the Governor in Council until 1983. Interestingly the Church Act 1983 introduced a decade of parliamentary, rather than royal, control over pastoral provision, substituting the Ecclesiastical Committee of tynwald for the Governor.

27 Pastoral Measure (Isle of Man) 1990. The first such appeal, relating to the chapel of St Jude in the parish of Andreas, was pending as this paper was being written. The progress of the case may be traced in detail through law reports in the Isle of Man Church Leader.

28 Ecclesiastical Courts Act 1874.

29 Church Act 1880, s 32.

30 Clandestine Marriages Act 1757. See now the Marriage Act 1984.

31 Convocations Ordinance 1703.

32 The author has collaborated with Dr Peter Edge of Oxford Brookes University on a research project considering the Bishop's role in the Manx legislature from all angles. A full report on the project is expected to appear in early 2003.

33 Although the Bishop is indeed a ‘baron’ of the Island (see the Lord's Rents Purchase Act 1913), there is no evidence that he ever participated in lawmaking in this capacity.

34 tynwald is of course an ancient institution, but not as a forum for the making of new law. The historic role of the Deemsters and Keys was to ‘speak’ the customary law and apply it to current cases.

35 This is a surmise based upon the date of the first recorded concurrence of ecclesiastics in legislation, which took place in 1637. James Stanley, Lord of Man (himself holding a high view of ‘church’ authority) was a close supporter of King Charles I who was himself at that date committed to the governmental views of Archbishop William Laud.

36 Isle of Man Constitution Amendment Act 1919.

37 The further changes were made by the Constitution Acts 1961 to 1990.

38 This later concern—though far from fanciful, as the short-lived union provision in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners Act 1836 (6 & 7 Will 4, c 77) (W) showed—had arguably more basis as a genuine threat in 1982 than in recent years. The Bishop's stipend and expenses are now virtually the only area of financial subsidy from the English Church to the Island, and its current prosperity suggests that the Manx could even cover these if need be. Under the Dioceses Measure 1980 the Manx Bishop's consent would be necessary to unite his See with another: and although there have been recent suggestions that this requirement be lifted, it is unlikely that a Measure framed in Westminster for this purpose would proceed to royal assent if it provided for direct extension to the Island in the face of a tynwald petition to the contrary.

39 Isle of Man Judicature Act 1921.

40 Ecclesiastical Civil Judicature Transfer Act 1884.

41 Church Act 1969, s 1.

42 Church Act 1969: Care of Churches and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure (Isle of Man) 1992; Patronage Measure (Isle of Man) 1997.

43 Government Chaplaincies Act 1921.

44 Church Act 1893.

45 Cathedral Church Act 1980.

* LLM, MA, PhD, Solicitor, Lecturer in Ecclesiastical and Public Law at Cardiff Law School. This article is based on a paper delivered at the annual gathering of graduates of the Cardiff LLM course in canon law held at Idlicote, Warwickshire on 17 September 2002, by kind permission of Sir John Owen.Note: Acts and Measures approved by the English or Imperial Parliament in Westminster are denoted in these footnotes by (W); all other references are to legislation approved by tynwald.

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Ecclesiastical Law Journal
  • ISSN: 0956-618X
  • EISSN: 1751-8539
  • URL: /core/journals/ecclesiastical-law-journal
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