Duchy Claim To Isles Of Scilly Not Clear Says Author

Hugh House, the offices of the Duchy of Cornwall in Scilly

Hugh House, the offices of the Duchy of Cornwall in Scilly

A new book about the Duchy of Cornwall claims the organisation may not actually be entitled to the Isles of Scilly.

It’s been written by Somerset-based solicitor, John Kirkhope, who’s also completed a Ph.D. on laws relating to the Duchy.

John describes himself as a ‘legal geek’ and said he was keen to find out about the Duchy because of his family’s Cornish roots.

But the biggest surprise he’s uncovered is that there’s no documentation that clearly states how the islands became part of the Duchy.

He says there are several references in the 18th and 19th centuries to the islands being granted ‘by favour’, rather than any act of law.

And John says even the Crown itself challenged the Duchy’s right to Scilly back in the 1830s, but the documents required to determine the case were either unclear or destroyed.

In reality, he says, the claim has never been challenged in the courts.

John says there are some interesting laws associated with the organisation that many people may be completely unaware of.

These include the Duchy’s right to your estate if you die without legal heirs. They can also claim bankrupt property as well as wrecks on the shores of Scilly.

They act as the harbour and lighthouse authority, although John says that brings some legal obligations and costs for them too.

And if you think there’s gold or oil under your property, forget it. They also own the mineral rights.

A key area of dispute in recent years has been around the subject of property freeholds, most of which are owned by the Duchy here.

Some islanders, including Garrison resident Alan Davis, have been trying to change that.

But John says, again, the laws aren’t clear.

Elsewhere in the UK people are covered under various Leasehold Reform Acts brought in by Parliament. But the Duchy claims Crown immunity and says those laws don’t apply.

That might not be correct but no one’s challenged it in court, he says.

John helped Lord Berkeley draft his Duchy Reform Bill, which has had its first reading in the House of Lords recently.

But while he feels it will open the debate on the Duchy, the chances of it making law are very slim.

The Queen and Prince Charles would have to give it their consent, he says, and that’s unlikely to happen.

John says he’s not an anti-royalist but says by the end of his research, he had the impression of an organisation that by fluke, or simply through a lack of challenge, has managed to achieve a “privileged legal position.”

He says they’re not accountable and, just occasionally, they do seem to abuse that situation.

John also feels that people are nervous of taking the Duchy on and some even regard them as intimidating.

And he says that while he could be seen as writing a history book, it’s not the case because these laws are still being used by the Duchy today.

‘An Introduction to the Laws of the Duchy of Cornwall, The Isles of Scilly and Devon’ by Dr John Kirkhope is available on Amazon.



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