A State of Emergency, One Year On

A copy of the proclamation shared by Garff MHK Daphne Caine on Twitter

A copy of the proclamation shared by Garff MHK Daphne Caine on Twitter

One year ago today Lieutenant Governor Sir Richard Gozney signed a proclamation declaring a state of emergency existed on the Isle of Man.

The state of emergency was declared under the Emergency Powers Act 1936 and it was the first time since the Second World this piece of legislation had been used.

Professor Edge Explains

Professor Peter Edge, a professor of law at Oxford Brookes University, explains what this meant.

‘The Governor in Council has exercised his powers under s.3 on the basis that “there is a pandemic of Coronavirus … it appears that there is a threat of that disease affecting the Island and causing serious damage to human health on, and the economic well-being of the Island”. The proclamation of emergency may not be in force for more than one month, although it may be renewed before the end of that period (s.3(2)). Showing the age of the legislation, the proclamation had to “forthwith be sent by prepaid post to each member of Tynwald” (s.3(4)).

‘The finding upon which the Governor exercised his power falls within the damage to human welfare head of the statutory definition of emergency (s.2A). The threat of serious damage to human health is a reference to loss of human life (s.2A(2)(a)), and human illness (s.2A(2)(b)). Economic well-being is less clearly a ground for invoking emergency powers, but may be intended to refer to the risk of homelessness (s.2A(2)(c)), damage to property (ibid, (d)), disruption of supply of money, food, water, energy or fuel (ibid, (e)), disruption of communications or transport (ibid, (f) and (g)), or disruption of services relating to health (ibid, (h)).

‘The Emergency Proclamation allows the Governor in Council to “make regulations for securing the essentials of life to the community and for the protection of the economic position of the community”. They may confer “on any persons in the employ of the public service of the Isle of Man such powers and duties as the Governor in Council may deem necessary for the preservation of peace, for securing and regulating the supply and distribution of food, water, fuel, light and other necessities for maintaining the means of transport, communications and the supply of services and for any other purposes essential to the public safety and the life of the community” (s.4(1)).

‘The regulations can create criminal offences, triable by a High Bailiff or other person appointed by the Governor, with a fine, imprisonment for three months, and forfeiture of “any goods or money in respect of which the offence has been committed” (s.4(3). No regulation may alter existing criminal procedure, or impose punishment without trial (s.4(3)). This is tremendously wide ranging, the only explicit limit on the regulations being a prohibition on criminalising taking part in a lock-out or strike, or peacefully persuading others to do so.

‘There is an element of democratic control. The regulations must be laid before Tynwald within seven days of being made, and shall cease to have effect seven days after being made unless approved by Tynwald (s.4(2)). Ceasing to have effect does not mean that the regulations were invalid – so for instance a fine imposed under the regulations will remain in effect (s.4(4)).’

What Does That All Mean?

I’m not a professor of law, I have just had the misfortune to familiarise myself with these regulations in the last year.

Essentially it meant the gov would be able to pass any legislation it deemed necessary for the protection of life on our island. As seen throughout the period, this ranged from closing bars, gyms and nonessential shops to requiring people to stay at home except for exercise and closing the borders.

If, after a period of seven days, Tynwald had not ratified any of these measures, then they ceased to be enforced in law. This led to several emergency sittings of Tynwald throughout the period as members got to grips with virtual sittings.

Jail

There were also some harsh punishments for breaking these regulations. Some 48 people were jailed for breaking Covid regulations last year. Amongst these included a woman who stopped for petrol on the way home after coming off the boat and a man who was absent from his regular place of residence. 

Other infamous prisoners last year included the Doncaster welders and jet ski man, however they were jailed after the end of the state of emergency.

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