[From Letters from IoM 1846]
" As the law was, till lately, cheap and unencumbered with solicitors and attorneys, the Manks are not a little litigious." -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA.
" Their laws were such as scarce to be found anywhere else."-CHIEF JUSTICE COLE.
" When Justinian compiled his ' Institutes,' the writings on the civil law alone amounted to many camel loads; ours may be reckoned by ship-loads, and the money annually expended upon law and lawyers (not upon justice) may be counted by millions."-THE TIN TRUMPET.
THE HOUSE OF KEYS is very ancient. Its members are supposed to have obtained the name of "Keys" from their being in all cases the interpreters of the common law, and to whom an appeal lies from verdicts of juries at common law in all cases, and there is no appeal from their decision, but to the King in Council. The office is attended with much trouble, loss of time, and great expense, without any power, emolument, or patronage. Formerly, those who filled this situation were but little respected, but now a member of Keys, in the Isle of Man, is regarded, by the Manks in particular, " as highly as a representative of the Commons is in Great Britain."
The principal courts are Chancery, Exchequer, Common Law, General Gaol Delivery, Admiralty, High Bailiff and the Ecclesiastical.
The Court of Chancery has the most extensive jurisdiction in matters of civil property of all the courts of the island, it being both a court of law and equity. In this court the governor 1 presides, and is assisted by the attorney-general, the clerk of the rolls, the deemsters, and the water-bailiff. The proceedings are conducted as in the English Court of Chancery, without the intervention of a jury. The court meets generally on the first Thursday in every month, at Castletown.
The Exchequer Court takes cognizance of all matters connected with the revenue, and proceedings are here carried on for the recovery, of all penalties, and for forfeitures due to the Crown, incurred by frauds upon the customs.
It also determines the right of tithe, which formerly was cognizance only in the ecclesiastical courts.
The Common Law Court is held at the Castle Rushen (Castletown) once in three months. It takes cognizance of all actions-real, per- sonal, and mixed-and of all suits at common law that require to be determined by a jury,the juries consisting of six men, from whose verdict an appeal lies to the House of Keys, in the first instance, who possess the power of affirming, reversing, or altering, a verdict at common law.
The Court of General Gaol Delivery is held twice a year, for the trial of felonies. The governor presides in this court, attended by the deemsters and council. It was formerly held in the open air. The execution of the sentence of this court in cases of treason, murder, or other capital felonies, is never carried into effect until her Majesty's pleasure is made known.
The Water Bailiff's Court is usually held once in every week, to redress wrongs, and enforce the regulations of the fishery. Two intelligent fishermen are appointed, with a small salary, who are styled " admirals," to assist in preserving order. The water-bailiff has the charge of the herring fishery, and the boats belonging to it, and also takes cognizance in maritime matters. From his judgment an appeal lies to the staff of government.
The Deemsters' Courts are of great antiquity, and are held weekly at Douglas and Castletown alternately. The judge in this court determines by his sole authority, in cases of trespasses, slander, assault, battery, debts, and contracts ; but there lies an appeal from his judgment also to the staff of government. In all the courts in Man, the parties may plead their own cause in person, but which I understand is now seldom practised. The deemsters are officers of high authority, and are the ancient magistrates of the island. They are appointed by the Crown, with a salary of 800l. per annum. And to these every department of legislature and government looks for advice and direction in all difficult points of law. They take summary cognizance of all breaches of the peace, and can hold courts instanter on all criminal informations.
The High-Bailiff's Courts are held weekly in the four different towns, for the recovery of debts2 under forty shillings. The proceedings are similar to those of Courts of Requests in England. A high-bailiff is appointed for each of the four towns on the island, by commission from the governor, and holds the office during the governor's pleasure. He is conservator of the peace, and superintendent of the police in his district. He is likewise empowered to take the acknowledgment of the parties, as the testimony of witnesses, for the probate of all deeds, to swear affidavits, &c.
The Ecclesiastical Courts are, the consistorial court, in which the bishop, his vicar-general, and registrar preside and take cognizance of all matters relating to the probate of wills, granting letters of administration, almonry, church assessments, &c. &c. The vicar-general's court takes cognizance of all offences against religion, good morals, and the interest of the church, and in all cases not cognizance by the common law courts. The chapter, or circuit of courts, are held for regulating all matters connected with the see, and the general affairs of the diocese.
The Seneschal of the Lord of the Isle has his office in Douglas, which is a deposit for all deeds of sale, mortgage, or transfer of real property. The seneschal holds a circuit of baronial courts twice a year, for the entry of sales, transfer of property, receipt of fines, and quit-rent due to the lord.
The Rolls Office is also an office of record, connected with the chancery and law courts, and the general affairs of government. In this office all the statutes and judgments of the legislature, and all public deeds and examinations relating to the general affairs of the country are deposited.
Additional magistrates have lately been appointed, as has also been done, under the Municipal Reform Bill, in all the corporate towns of England and Wales.
A coroner, with powers analogous, in many respects, to those of English sheriffs, is appointed by the governor to each of the six Sheadings,3 or great divisions of the island. He is both a ministerial officer and a conservator of the peace, and, according to an ancient statute, held his office for one year only. It is the duty of coroners, besides holding inquests, to apprehend all criminal offenders: all judgments for debt or damage are levied by them from and out of the property of the debtor. A salary of 20l. is annexed to this office. The coroners are for the most part intelligent yeomen, and some of them, though not men of education, are very intelligent.
The Laws of this island still retain much of their ancient peculiarity of character, though modified by occasional acts of Tynwald, and, in some respects, more resembling those in England. By acts of Tynwald, passed in 1777 and 1813, the criminal code was altered and amended.
No person can be arrested for debt under forty shillings, unless affidavit be made that he is about to leave the island. The law of arrest is seldom enforced arbitrarily or vexatiously.
The Insolvent Debtors Act is nearly similar to that of England; but a debtor can be liberated in a few days by petition to the governor, on showing that he is insolvent.
1 The present governor is Colonel John Ready.
2 The law enacts, that, "No action of arrest shall be granted against a landed man, or native, within the isle, to imprison or hold him to bail, unless he has attained the Governor's pass, or that there is some other just cause to believe he designs to go off the island."
3 A term which answers to our "counties."