The Law of the Manx Church

K F W Gumbley

What does "Established Church" mean? It means that, while other Churches are legally voluntary organisations, regulated by their own internal rules, the law of our Church is part of the law of the land — it is what it has been for a thousand years, "the Church by law established".

What makes up the law of the Church? It can be divided into "canon law" on the one hand, ie. the law which deals with purely spiritual matters, such as doctrine, Holy Orders, the conduct of Divine Service, and the use of church land and other property, and on the other hand the rules of secular law which regulate the internal government of the Church and its relations with the State and the public. The dividing line between them is blurred, though, and it is more instructive to look at the sources of Church law.

First, there is the common law, to be found in decisions of church and secular courts over many hundreds of years; the Church courts have jurisdiction in cases of church discipline and "faculty", and the secular courts in other matters. But of ever greater importance is Church legislation, which derives from a number of sources.

Laws relating to spiritual matters, known as "Canons", were formerly made by the Convocations of Canterbury and York. Those made in 1603 remained in force until they were revised in the 1960's; they are now made by the General Synod.

Most legislation relating to secular matters, such as Church funds and the houses and glebe land of the Bishop and incumbents, used to be contained in Acts of Tynwald, and many such Acts remain in force. Some Acts of Parliament dealing with Church affairs applied to the Isle of Man, because the Manx Church forms part of the Church of England; for example, an Act of Parliament of 1541 placed the diocese of Sodor and Man in the province of York.

In the 20th century the Church has gained a measure of independence from the State. In 1919 the Church Assembly (now the General Synod) was given power to pass "Measures" which, if approved by each House of Parliament and given Royal assent, had the same effect as Acts of Parliament. One of the best-known is the Pastoral Measure 1983, under which changes in the pastoral organisation of the Church can be made. There was for some years a doubt whether such Measures applied to the Isle of Man, but the Manx High Court decided in 1937 that they did in certain cases. From 1956 onwards many Measures have contained a clause to the effect that they will apply to the Isle of Man only if an Act of Tynwald so provides.

A similar procedure for Church legislation was introduced in the Isle of Man in 1979: a Measure passed by the Sodor and Man Diocesan Synod, if approved by Tynwald and given Royal assent, has the same effect as an Act of Tynwald. For example, a Measure was passed in 1990 extending the Pastoral Measure 1983 to the Isle of Man. Originally this could only be used to extend Church Assembly or General Synod Measures to the Isle of Man, but the Church Legislation Procedure Act 1993 (of Tynwald) enables the Diocesan Synod to pass Measures dealing with any matter concerning the Church in the Island. Two recent Measures deal with the retirement of clergy on the grounds of disability or pastoral breakdown.

The Diocesan Synod's Legislative Committee is responsible for promoting legislation to extend General Synod Measures to the Island, where appropriate, and to make other changes in Manx Church law. It also keeps under review the legislation being promoted by the General Synod to ensure that it takes proper account of the special position of the Isle of Man.

For more details about Manx Church law see Manx Church Legislation.

It is hoped that the Isle of Man Church Leader will include a regular feature about current legislation in the General Synod and the Diocesan Synod.


An earlier version of this article appeared in the Isle of Man Church Leader, May 1997 issue.