As the Crown dependencies are not sovereign states, the power to pass legislation affecting the islands ultimately rests with the government of the United Kingdom. However they each have their own legislative assemblies, with the power to legislate on many local matters with the assent of the Crown. In each case, the head of government is referred to as the Chief Minister.
"The Crown" is defined differently in each Crown Dependency. In Jersey, statements in the 21st century of the constitutional position by the Law Officers of the Crown define it as the "Crown in right of Jersey", with all Crown land in the Bailiwick of Jersey belonging to the Crown in right of Jersey and not to the Crown Estate of the United Kingdom. Legislation of the Isle of Man defines the "Crown in right of the Isle of Man" as being separate from the "Crown in right of the United Kingdom". In Guernsey, legislation refers to the "Crown in right of the Bailiwick", and the Law Officers of the Crown of Guernsey submitted that "The Crown in this context ordinarily means the Crown in right of the république of the Bailiwick of Guernsey" and that this comprises "the collective governmental and civic institutions, established by and under the authority of the Monarch, for the governance of these Islands, including the States of Guernsey and legislatures in the other Islands, the Royal Court and other courts, the Lieutenant Governor, Parish authorities, and the Crown acting in and through the Privy Council." This constitutional concept is also worded as the "Crown in right of the Bailiwick of Guernsey".
Since 1290, the Channel Islands have been governed as
Each Bailiwick is a Crown dependency and each is headed by a Bailiff, with a Lieutenant Governor representing the Crown in each Bailiwick. Each Bailiwick has its own legal and healthcare systems, and their own separate immigration policies, with "local status" in one Bailiwick having no jurisdiction in the other. The two Bailiwicks exercise bilateral double taxation treaties. Since 1961, the Bailiwicks have had separate courts of appeal, but generally the Bailiff of each Bailiwick has been appointed to serve on the panel of appellate judges for the other Bailiwick.
The Bailiwick of Guernsey comprises three separate jurisdictions:
The parliament of Guernsey is the States of Deliberation, the parliament of Sark is called the Chief Pleas, and the parliament of Alderney is called the States of Alderney. The three parliaments together can also approve joint Bailiwick-wide legislation that applies in those parts of the Bailiwick whose parliaments approve it.
Guernsey issues its own coins and banknotes:
These circulate freely in both Bailiwicks alongside UK coinage and English and Scottish banknotes. They are not legal tender within the UK.
There are no political parties in any of the parliaments; candidates stand for election as independents.
Guernsey has its own separate international vehicle registrations (GBG – Guernsey, GBA – Alderney), internet domain (.gg – Guernsey), and ISO 3166-2 codes, first reserved on behalf of the Universal Postal Union (GGY – Guernsey) and then added officially by the International Organization for Standardization on 29 March 2006. In any case the GBG on a numberplate is only put on the number plate of a car or motorbike at the request of the vehicle owner and is not compulsory, however a motorbike/scooter can have an identical number as a car, i.e. 5432 on 2 wheels and on 4 wheels.
The Bailiwick of Jersey consists of the island of Jersey and a number of surrounding uninhabited islands.
The parliament is the States of Jersey, the first known mention of which is in a document of 1497. The States of Jersey Law 2005 introduced the post of Chief Minister of Jersey, abolished the Bailiff's power of dissent to a resolution of the States and the Lieutenant Governor's power of veto over a resolution of the States, established that any Order in Council or Act of the United Kingdom proposed to apply to Jersey must be referred to the States so the States can express their views on it.
Jersey issues its own coins and banknotes:
These circulate freely in both Bailiwicks alongside UK coinage and English and Scottish banknotes. They are not legal tender within the UK but are legal currency backed by deposits at the Bank of England.
There are few political parties, as candidates generally stand for election as independents (but see List of political parties in Jersey).
Jersey has its own separate international vehicle registration (GBJ – Jersey), internet domain (.je – Jersey), and ISO 3166-2 codes, first reserved on behalf of the Universal Postal Union (JEY – Jersey) and then added officially by the International Organization for Standardization on 29 March 2006.
The Isle of Man's Tynwald claims to be the world's oldest parliament in continuous existence, dating back to 979. (However, it does not claim to be the oldest parliament, as Iceland's Althing dates back to 930.) It consists of a popularly elected House of Keys and an indirectly elected Legislative Council, which may sit separately or jointly to consider pieces of legislation, which, when passed into law, are known as "Acts of Tynwald". Candidates mostly stand for election to the Keys as independents, rather than being selected by political parties. There is a Council of Ministers headed by a Chief Minister.
The Isle of Man issues its own coins and banknotes:
These circulate freely on the island alongside British coinage (as well as coinage from the Channel Islands and Gibraltar) and English, Northern Irish and Scottish banknotes.
The Isle of Man, unlike the other Crown dependencies, has a Common Purse Agreement with the United Kingdom.
Isle of Man Post issues its own stamps and derives significant revenue from the sale of special issues to collectors.
The Isle of Man has its own separate international vehicle registration (GBM – Isle of Man), internet domain (.im – Isle of Man), and ISO 3166-2 codes, first reserved on behalf of the Universal Postal Union (IMN – Isle of Man) and then added officially by the International Organization for Standardization on 29 March 2006. In addition, since 2008 the Isle of Man has used the aircraft registration M-.
In each Crown dependency, the monarch is represented by a Lieutenant Governor, but this post is largely ceremonial. Since 2010 the Lieutenant Governors of each Crown dependency have been recommended to the Crown by a panel in each respective Crown dependency; this replaced the previous system of the appointments being made by the Crown on the recommendation of UK ministers. In 2005, it was decided in the Isle of Man to replace the Lieutenant Governor with a Crown Commissioner, but this decision was reversed before it was implemented.
All "insular" legislation has to receive the approval of the "Queen in Council", in effect, the Privy Council in London. Certain types of domestic legislation in the Isle of Man, however, may be signed into law by the Lieutenant Governor, using delegated powers, without having to pass through the Privy Council. In Jersey, provisional legislation of an administrative nature may be adopted by means of triennial regulations (renewable after three years), without requiring the assent of the Privy Council. Much legislation, in practice, is effected by means of secondary legislation under the authority of prior laws or Orders in Council.
The Channel Islands are part of the territory annexed by the Duchy of Normandy in 933 from the Duchy of Brittany. This territory was added to the grant of land given in settlement by the King of France in 911 to the Viking raiders who had sailed up the Seine almost to the walls of Paris.
William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, claimed the title King of England in 1066, following the death of Edward the Confessor, and secured the claim through the Norman conquest of England.
Subsequent marriages between Kings of England and French nobles meant that Kings of England had title to more French lands than the King of France. When the King of France asserted his feudal right of patronage, the then-King of England, King John, fearing he would be imprisoned should he attend, failed to fulfil his obligation.
In 1204 the title and lands of the Duchy of Normandy and his other French possessions were stripped from King John of England by the King of France. The Channel Islands remained in the possession of the King of England, who ruled them as Duke of Normandy until the Treaty of Paris in 1259.
King Henry III of England renounced the title of Duke of Normandy by that treaty, and none of his successors ever revived it. The Channel Islands continued to be governed by the Kings of England as French fiefs, distinct from Normandy, until the Hundred Years' War, during which they were definitively separated from France.
At no time did the Channel Islands form part of the Kingdom of England, and they remained legally separate, though under the same monarch, through the subsequent unions of Scotland and England (1707), and Ireland (1801). Elizabeth II reigns over the Channel Islands directly, and not by virtue of her role as monarch of the United Kingdom. No specific title is associated with her role as monarch of the Channel Islands, however; she is popularly referred to (even on a Buckingham Palace website) as "Duke of Normandy" (not "Duchess") but this anachronistic title has no basis in law. The monarch has been described, in Jersey, as the "Queen in right of Jersey", and in legislation as the "Sovereign of the Bailiwick of Jersey" and "Sovereign in right of the Bailiwick of Jersey".
A unique constitutional position has arisen as successive monarchs have confirmed the liberties and privileges of the Bailiwicks, often referring to the so-called Constitutions of King John, a legendary document supposed to have been granted by King John in the aftermath of 1204. Governments of the Bailiwicks have generally tried to avoid testing the limits of the unwritten constitution by avoiding conflict with British governments.
Following the restoration of King Charles II, who had spent part of his exile in Jersey, the Channel Islands were given the right to set their own customs duties, referred to by the Jersey Legal French term as impôts.
In the Isle of Man the British monarch is Lord of Mann, a title variously held by Norse, Scottish and English kings and nobles (the English nobles in feudality to the English Crown) until it was revested into the British monarch in 1765. The title "Lord" is today used irrespective of the gender of the person who holds it.
Crown dependencies have the international status of "territories for which the United Kingdom is responsible" rather than sovereign states. The relationship between the Crown dependencies and the UK is "one of mutual respect and support, i.e. a partnership".
Until 2001, responsibility for the UK government's relationships with the Crown dependencies rested with the Home Office, but it was then transferred first to the Lord Chancellor's Department, then to the Department for Constitutional Affairs, and finally to the Ministry of Justice. In 2010 the Ministry of Justice stated that relationships with the Crown dependencies are the responsibility of the United Kingdom Government as a whole, with the Ministry of Justice holding responsibility for the constitutional relationship and other ministries engaging with their opposite numbers in the Crown dependencies according to their respective policy areas.
The British Government is solely responsible for defence and international representation (although, in accordance with 2007 framework agreements, the UK has elected not to act internationally on behalf of the Crown dependencies without prior consultation). The Crown dependencies are within the Common Travel Area and apply the same visa policy of the United Kingdom, but each Crown dependency has responsibility for its own customs and immigration services.
Acts of the British Parliament do not usually apply to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, unless explicitly stated. UK legislation does not ordinarily extend to them without their consent. For a UK Act to extend otherwise than by an Order in Council is now very unusual. When deemed advisable, Acts of Parliament may be extended to the Islands by means of an Order in Council (thus giving the UK Government some responsibility for good governance in the islands). An example of this was the Television Act 1954, which was extended to the Channel Islands, so as to create a local ITV franchise, known as Channel Television. By constitutional convention this is only done at the request of the Insular Authorities, and has become a rare option (thus giving the Insular Authorities themselves the responsibility for good governance in the islands), the islands usually preferring nowadays to pass localised versions of laws giving effect to international treaties.
Westminster retains the right to legislate for the Islands against their will as a last resort, but this is also rarely exercised, and may, according to legal opinion from the Attorney-General of Jersey, have fallen into desuetude — although this argument was not accepted by the Department for Constitutional Affairs. (The Marine, Etc., Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967 was one recent piece of legislation extended to the Isle of Man against the wishes of Tynwald).
The States of Jersey Law 2005 established that all Acts of the United Kingdom and Orders in Council were to be referred to the States, thus giving greater freedom of action to Jersey in international affairs.
Matters reserved to the Crown (i.e. acting through the United Kingdom Government) are limited to defence, citizenship, and diplomatic representation. The islands are not bound by treaties concluded by the United Kingdom (unless they so request) and may separately conclude treaties with foreign governments (except concerning matters reserved to the Crown). The United Kingdom conceded at the end of the 20th century that the islands may establish direct political (non-diplomatic) contacts with foreign governments to avoid British embassies being obliged to pass on communications from the governments that were in conflict with United Kingdom government policy. In recent years, with the development of finance industries and the increasing interdependence of the modern world, the Islands have been more active in international relations, concluding treaties and signing conventions with other states separately from the UK. Such treaties typically concern matters such as tax, finance, environment and trade, and other matters not relating directly to defence and international representation. The UK has in recent years, however, agreed to the Channel Islands negotiating directly with the French government on topics such as French nuclear activities in the region, as this is a matter on which the UK government holds views so at odds with those of the governments of the Bailiwicks that it feels unable to continue to represent the Islands itself.
As in England, but not the United Kingdom as a whole, the Church of England is the Established Church in the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey.
In 2007-2008, each Crown Dependency and the UK signed agreements that established frameworks for the development of the international identity of each Crown Dependency. Among the points clarified in the agreements were that:
The constitutional and cultural proximity of the Islands to the UK means that there are shared institutions and organisations. The BBC, for example, has local radio stations in the Channel Islands, and also a website run by a team based in the Isle of Man (which is included in BBC North West). While the Islands now assume responsibility for their own post and telecommunications, they continue to participate in the UK telephone numbering plan, and they have adopted postcode systems which are compatible with that of the UK.
The Crown dependencies, together with the United Kingdom, are collectively known as the British Islands. Since the British Nationality Act 1981 came into effect, they have been treated as part of the United Kingdom for British nationality law purposes. However, each Crown dependency maintains local controls over housing and employment, with special rules applying to British citizens without specified connections to that Crown dependency (as well as to non-British citizens).
While their constitutional status bears some resemblance to that of the Commonwealth realms, the Crown dependencies are not members of the Commonwealth of Nations. They participate in the Commonwealth of Nations by virtue of their relationship with the United Kingdom, and participate in various Commonwealth institutions in their own right. For example, all three participate in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Commonwealth Games.
All three Crown dependencies regard the existing situation as unsatisfactory and have lobbied for change. The States of Jersey have called on the British Foreign Secretary to request that the Commonwealth Heads of Government "consider granting associate membership to Jersey and the other Crown Dependencies as well as any other territories at a similarly advanced stage of autonomy". Jersey has proposed that it be accorded "self-representation in all Commonwealth meetings; full participation in debates and procedures, with a right to speak where relevant and the opportunity to enter into discussions with those who are full members; and no right to vote in the Ministerial or Heads of Government meetings, which is reserved for full members". The States of Guernsey and the Government of the Isle of Man have made calls of a similar nature for a more integrated relationship with the Commonwealth, including more direct representation and enhanced participation in Commonwealth organisations and meetings, including Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings. The Chief Minister of the Isle of Man has said: "A closer connection with the Commonwealth itself would be a welcome further development of the Island's international relationships"
Certain aspects of membership of the European Union apply to the Crown dependencies, by association of the United Kingdom's membership. For example, Article 355 (5)(c) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) states:this Treaty shall apply to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man only to the extent necessary to ensure the implementation of the arrangements for those islands set out in the Treaty concerning the accession of new Member States to the European Economic Community and to the European Atomic Energy Community signed on 22 January 1972.;
and by Protocol 3 to the UK's Act of Accession to the Community:
An Act to make provision in connection with the enlargement of the European Communities to include the United Kingdom, together with (for certain purposes) the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and Gibraltar. [17 October 1972]"
Of the Four Freedoms of the EU, the islands take part in that concerning the movement of goods, but not those concerning the movement of persons, services or capital. The Channel Islands are outside the VAT area (as they have no VAT), while the Isle of Man is inside it. Both areas are inside the customs union.
Channel Islanders and Manx people are British citizens and hence European citizens. However, they are not entitled to take advantage of the freedom of movement of people or services unless they are directly connected (through birth, descent from a parent or grandparent, or five years' residence) with the United Kingdom.
The common agricultural policy of the EU does not apply to the Crown dependencies. Their citizens do not take part in elections to the European Parliament.
With the impending Brexit negotiations, the House of Lords has produced a report entitled "Brexit: the Crown Dependencies" which states the "UK Government must continue to fulfil its constitutional obligations to represent the interests of the Crown Dependencies in international relations, even where these differ from those of the UK, both during the Brexit negotiations and beyond." In the Great Repeal Bill white paper published on 30 March 2017 the UK government states The Government is committed to engaging with the Crown Dependencies, Gibraltar and the other Overseas Territories as we leave the EU.