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Cornish Law

Philip Hosking
19 March 2009

Back in February 2008 I blogged for OurKingdom concerning the Duchy of Cornwall. The article was called Duchy or County - how would a modern Magna Carta look in Cornwall? Over a year later there seems to be a certain effervescence around this Cornish constitutional question. Okay it's not on the same level as the global economic depression, but perhaps an update is in order anyway. Hopefully it will give some of our democratic republicans something to mull over as well.

In February this year an article was published in Cornish World magazine by Cornish law researcher and Notary Public John Kirkhope. In -The Duchy of Cornwall, a very peculiar 'private estate'- Kirkhope lists the array of unusual rights and prerogatives the Duchy has over the territory of Cornwall. In this blog article from Republic, Graham Smith describes one of these rights, namely Bona Vancantia, but it's far from the whole picture. Kirkhope goes into much greater detail listing for example:

The right to appoint a sheriff; the rights not to pay tax; the rights to fundus and foreshore; the right to wreck; the right to summon a parliament; the rights to crown immunity and the right to intervene in court cases and demand a trial at bar amongst others.

Did someone say 'just a private estate'?

Prior to publishing Kirkhope sent copies of his findings to all five Cornish MPs. Two, Andrew George and Dan Rogerson, responded and arranged to meet Kirkhope in Westminster so that the researcher could expand on his findings. Both MPs shared Kirkhopes frustration at governments unwillingness to answer questions about the Duchy. It should also be noted that Andrew George has shown a previous interest in our constitutional affairs.

In the same month, and perhaps prompted by Kirkhopes presentation, Andrew George raised a number of questions in parliament concerning the Duchy. These and the responses they received can be viewed here on the new blog from the Duchy of Cornwall Human Rights Association (DCHA). Intelligently commented by Cornish activist John Angarrack the government responses give the impression of officials more than ready to use doublespeak.

So what can be deduced from these Ducal rights? What constitutional arrangement do they find their foundation in? Even if the Tamar and its estuary almost severe us from Devonshire, geographically, Cornwall is part of the island of Great Britain. Furthermore, in an administrative sense, Cornwall is clearly run as a county of England with a soon-to-be Unitary Authority. No doubt on these two points.

Cornwall's de jure constitutional position is another story though. Is it part of the United Kingdom? Angarracks response is simple. On the big island the Queen/Crown is sovereign accepting that is Cornwall where a second sovereign sits obscured by the governments and establishments disinformation. A Duke happy to benefit from his extensive powers but unwilling to assume responsibility for the territory and people of his Duchy. The evidence and arguments are complex but clearly explained on the DCHRA blog.

So where next? The British Islands other constitutional anomalies may be regretting the good old days before the credit crunch, but what about our hidden Cornish Crown Dependency operated as a tax haven for one man? Shouldn't the people of Cornwall be fully informed as to the nature of the Duchy?

I'll leave the last words to John Kirkhope who writes:

"At a time when Cornwall, economically, needs bolstering and the government of Cornwall is in apparent upheaval perhaps the legal status of Cornwall and the monies generated by the Duchy need to be made transparent rather than suffer the murkiness of misinformation."

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