St Helena is an internally self-governing Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. It forms part of a group comprising St Helena itself along with Ascension Island and the Tristan da Cunha group of Islands. Within the group, there are three separate, but intricately-related, legal systems: the information on this site relates specifically to St Helena.
St Helena has its own legislature, empowered to make laws known as Ordinances. Many of the Ordinances enable an authority (usually the Governor in Council) to make detailed ‘secondary legislation’ in the form of Rules, Regulations, or Orders. These Ordinances, and their associated secondary legislation, are available on this site; click here to go to our Legal System page.
All of these ‘local laws’ are made under the authority of St Helena’s Constitution, which is found in an Order in Council made under the Saint Helena Act, 1833. This is because ultimate legislative and executive authority for the British Overseas Territories resides in the British Crown. The Saint Helena Act can be found at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Will4/3-4/85/contents
The Order in Council is at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2009/1751/contents/made.
The Constitution provides for a Legislature, an Executive, and a Judiciary; with specific measures to protect the independence of the Judiciary from the other two organs of Government.
The Legislature: the Constitution provides for a Legislative Council which comprises-
- A Speaker, and a Deputy Speaker – neither of whom has a vote;
- Three Ex Officio Members (The Chief Secretary, Financial Secretary, and Attorney General), none of whom has a vote;
- 12 Elected Members.
The Elected Members are elected by a system of Polls based on a system of universal adult suffrage.
Technically, the legislature comprises Her Majesty the Queen and the Legislative Council; but, in practice, it is usual for the Governor (the Queen’s representative in the Territory) to approve, on Her behalf, Bills which have been passed by the Legislative Council. The former limited discretionary power for the Governor to enact an Ordinance without the approval of the Council was removed when the Constitution was revised in 2009.
The Executive: Executive Authority is vested formally in Her Majesty and exercised on Her behalf by the Governor. But the Governor is, in most matters, required to consult the Executive Council and to act in accordance with its advice.
The Executive Council comprises the three Ex Officio members (who do not have a vote) and five Elected Members. The Elected Members are elected by the 12 Elected Members of Legislative Council, from amongst themselves.
The expression ‘Governor in Council’ means ‘the Governor, acting after consulting the Executive Council.
The Judiciary: the Constitution provides for a Supreme Court and a Court of Appeal, and allows for local laws to create subordinate courts. Further details are given on our page about the Legal System. The Court of Appeal is to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, in London.