The islands of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha comprise three internally self-governing Overseas Territories of the United Kingdom. Paragraph (j) of the Preamble to the St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Constitution Order, 2009 says “… while separate territories, St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha form a single territorial grouping under the Crown.” Each territory has a separate legal system, but each of them is intricately bound to the other two. There is a single Constitution, but it has three Chapters, each providing for the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government. The Attorney General of St Helena is also the Attorney General of Ascension and of Tristan da Cunha under sections 150 and 215 of the Constitution respectively. The Constitution establishes the Supreme Court of St Helena and the Court of Appeal under section 80. Sections 153 and 218 establish that the Supreme Court of St Helena and the Court of Appeal of St Helena are the Courts of Ascension and Tristan da Cunha respectively. Each island has its own Government with executive authority being vested on Her Majesty the Queen and exercised on Her Majesty’s behalf by a Governor who resides on St Helena. Sections 147 and 212 provide for a resident Administrator for Ascension and Tristan da Cunha respectively.
Revised Edition of the Laws, 2017
Consolidated and updated versions of the laws of each of the 3 territories have been published at intervals over the years. Revised Editions of the Laws of St Helena were published in 1837-1853, 1880, 1929, 1950, 1971 and 2001. The 2001 Revised Edition, which was published in hard copy, is now replaced by this electronic Revised Edition, produced under the authority of the Revised Edition of the Laws Ordinance, 1999. By the Attorney General’s notice under section 10 this Revised Edition came into effect in all 3 territories on 15 January, 2018.
This Revised Edition was funded by the Government of St Helena and initiated in 2015 by the then Attorney General. It is based on work done by a previous Attorney General, Ken Baddon, between 2006 and 2012, and has been supervised by the current Attorney General, Angelo Berbotto. Its preparation has been much assisted by Ms Christell Brodrick, the Law Drafter for St Helena.
The Revised Edition, 2017 sets out the laws of all 3 territories extant at the revision date*, except for certain omissions, which are listed below. The texts include new laws enacted since 2001 and amendments to existing laws since 2001. There are also Chronological Tables of laws enacted in each of the 3 territories, lists of laws of St Helena that apply to Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, and lists of UK laws that apply to all 3 territories.
Presentation of text
The laws as set out in the Revised Edition differ from the texts as enacted in a few ways. They consolidate amendments made to an Ordinance since it was enacted; they use a modern legislative style, sometimes known as the ‘Plain English’ style of drafting; they are gender-neutral in expression; and they sometimes combine two or more Ordinances on the same subject into a single new Ordinance. The same principles have also been applied to subsidiary legislation made under an Ordinance.
Each revised text includes at its head the enactment history of the Ordinance and any subsidiary legislation made under it. It also shows commencement dates, when known. The headnotes also show whether there have been any amendments and if so where they can be found, with commencement dates if still relevant.
The headnotes also list any subsidiary legislation that has been made under an Ordinance, with similar information about amendments and dates. The text of the subsidiary legislation follows the text of the Ordinance, in chronological sequence. The provision of an Ordinance under which an item of subsidiary legislation was made is not shown in the headnotes, but is shown at the start of each item.
In the headnotes, ‘Ord.’ means an Ordinance; ‘L.N.’ means a Legal Notice, usually published in a Gazette Extraordinary; and ‘G.N’ means an ordinary Gazette Notice. Note that several Ordinances were also amended by SH G.N. 63 of 1 July 2011 which changed various official titles, under s.18 of the St Helena Interpretation Ordinance, 1968.
Chapter or Title numbers (‘Cap. Nos.’) are not used in this Revised Edition, and years of enactment are allocated to all Ordinances instead.
The letters ‘UK’ in brackets after an Act indicate an Act of the British Parliament. The words ‘SH’, ‘Asc’ or ‘TdaC’ in or after an Ordinance indicate it was enacted in St Helena, Ascension or Tristan da Cunha respectively. The letters SH, A or T before an Ordinance or Legal Notice reference indicate which territory it was made for.
The texts include an Arrangement of Sections for each Ordinance and a Table of Contents for a Schedule or an item of subsidiary legislation of any length. These take the place of the Indices that were provided in the 2001 Revised Edition. For a contents list of each Ordinance and item of subsidiary legislation, and of some Schedules, scroll to the Ordinance or item.
It is hoped that these changes will make the texts more user-friendly and thus make the laws of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha more accessible to the general public.
Status of the Revised Edition
The texts of Ordinances previously set out on the Government websites of St Helena and Ascension were not authoritative but were prepared for the purpose of enabling ready access to the current law, and specifically so as to be made accessible via the internet. Under section 10 of the Revised Edition of the Laws Ordinance, 1999, this Revised Edition is the only authoritative version of the laws and “is deemed to be, in all courts of justice and for all purposes whatsoever, without any question, the sole authentic edition in respect of the law contained in it and in force” at the revision date*.
As contemplated by section 13 of the Revised Edition of the Laws Ordinance, it is intended that the 2017 Revised Edition will be periodically updated by the addition or removal of material from the website or the amendment of material or by other means. The Revised Edition was last updated on 3 February 2020.
The laws of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha as enacted are published in the respective Government Gazette and reference can be made to those if necessary. Users who wish to refer to the original text of an Ordinance or item of subsidiary legislation can address enquiries as shown above.
Local laws are made under the authority of the Constitution of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, which is found in an Order in Council made under the Saint Helena Act, 1833, as replaced by the Government of India Act, 1915. This is because ultimate legislative and executive authority for the British Overseas Territories resides in the British Crown. The text of the 2009 Order in Council can be accessed here.
The basic texts for all three territories include the 2009 Royal Instructions to the Governor which deal with such matters as how the Ordinances of each of the 3 territories are to be enacted. They also include the St Helena and Dependencies (Territorial Sea) Order 1989 which defines the territorial waters of all three territories.
Other UK Orders which apply to all 3 territories, including those dealing with emergency powers and extradition can be found listed in the List of UK Laws Applied to St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.
Laws of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
St Helena has been making laws to govern itself and its former dependencies since 1815. Before that, certain by-laws of the East India Company applied to St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. Many of the Ordinances enable an authority (usually the Governor in Council, Governor or Chief Justice) to make detailed ‘subsidiary legislation’ in the form of Regulations, Rules or Orders. These are also published in the Gazette as ‘Legal Notices’ or L.Ns. Some general Government notices or G.Ns. also have legislative effect.
Ascension and Tristan da Cunha were formerly Dependencies of St Helena. However, under the 2009 Constitution, they became separate Territories, albeit with the same Governor, Chief Justice, Supreme Court and Attorney General as St Helena. They have their own legislatures and can make their own laws, although many of the laws of St Helena also apply (if suitable and not contrary to other applicable laws) as may some of the laws of the United Kingdom (see below).
It is appropriate that each of the three territories should conduct their own law revision exercise, and the Revised Edition of the Laws of St Helena, 2017, the Revised Edition of the Laws of Ascension, 2017 and the Revised Edition of the Laws of Tristan da Cunha, 2017 therefore appear as separate sections on this website.
English/UK laws applied to St Helena
In relation to any matter not covered by a local law, St Helena uses relevant English law that was in force up to 1 January 2006. See the English Law (Application) Ordinance, 2005. Some English laws have been expressly applied by orders made under the 2005 Ordinance or its predecessor, and they are listed under that Ordinance in the St Helena section of the website.
Some English (or United Kingdom) statutes apply to St Helena by their own force, while others are applied by Orders in Council applicable to all overseas territories, or only to St Helena. Others may apply if they are not contrary to a local law, and can be adapted to local conditions. This website lists all English (or United Kingdom) laws that have been directly applied to St Helena by one of the above methods. For practical purposes, the list can be taken also as a list of UK laws applied to Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.
Texts can be found on UK Government websites, in particular www.legislation.gov.uk.
St Helena laws applied to Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
Some St Helena laws apply to Ascension and to Tristan by virtue of the St Helena Law (Application to Ascension) Ordinance, 1988 and the Application of St Helena Law (Tristan da Cunha) Ordinance, 1987. Those Ordinances prescribe a cut-off date for such application, of 1 April 2017 in the case of Ascension and 1 January 2018 in the case of Tristan da Cunha. See the respective sections of this website for St Helena laws that so apply.
By virtue of the Ordinances mentioned, UK laws that apply to St Helena up to 1 January 2006 also apply to Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.
As each of the three territories can now make its own laws, it is appropriate that St Helena Ordinances which originally applied to Ascension and Tristan da Cunha should become Ordinances of those territories, and they are so identified, with the original year of enactment. See for example, the Minerals Vesting (Ascension) Ordinance, 1951 which incorporates a law enacted in St Helena but is modified for Ascension. Conversely, St Helena Ordinances that have counterparts in the laws of the other territories are modified to remove references to those territories. St Helena subsidiary legislation is not renamed or modified but needs to be read with appropriate modifications.
UK statutes applied to St Helena (and St Helena laws applied to Ascension or to Tristan da Cunha) are to be read with necessary adaptations and modifications, some of which are spelled out in the relevant application instrument. Unless the law expressly provides otherwise, English laws do not apply if there is a local Ordinance making different provision on the same subject. The decision on whether an English law applies to St Helena is for the St Helena courts, or possibly the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council if the matter is taken there.
Similarly, the law of St Helena applies to Ascension and Tristan da Cunha “only in so far as it is applicable and suitable to local circumstances, and subject to such modifications, adaptations, qualifications and exemptions as local circumstances render necessary.” (Section2(2) of each application Ordinance.) For guidance in determining whether English laws are applicable to St Helena or Ascension, and if so what modifications, qualifications, adaptations and exemptions should apply, see the court case judgments annexed.
Other court cases relating to St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha can be accessed on a database maintained by the British and Irish Legal Information Institute. See http://www.bailii.org/sh/cases/SHSC.
The Revised Edition of the Laws Ordinance, 1999 empowers the Law Revision Commissioner to omit laws that have been repealed, that are only temporary or personal or that for any other reason do not need to appear in the Revised Edition. For a list of Omitted Laws, press here.
Crown Copyright in this website material is expressly reserved, and no part of the material may be published without the express permission of the Attorney General or the Governor.
However, Ordinances and subsidiary legislation may be copied and printed, in whole or in part, for purposes of study and research.
John F Wilson
MA (Oxon), Barrister (Non-practising)
Law Revision Commissioner for St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
* The ‘revision date’ is 1 November 2017, or any later date noted on the text of the Ordinance.
- Constitution of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, 2009
- St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Royal Instructions, 2009
- St Helena and Dependencies Territorial Sea Order, 1989 (UK)
- Revised Edition of the Laws Ordinance, 1999
- Omitted Laws List
- List of UK laws applied to St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
- Court Case Judgments