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11.11.09

A Duchy already devolved?

Following the release of -The Next Push- and the related Cornish Democrat blog post some interesting feedback has been received.

First are the links below from the Council of Europe's Congress on Local and Regional Authorities sent in by a colleague. Relevant to Cornish autonomy the two documents suggest political autonomy is economically and environmentally beneficial for a 'region'. Long but interesting reading they only seem to strengthen the Cornish case.

Regions with legislative powers: towards multi-level governance.
Good governance: a key factor for the sustainable economic development of regions.

Secondly, the letter below from Cornish constitutional researcher, John Kirkhope, to the Cornish Constitutional Convention, has been passed to me by the author for publication here.

Cornish Difference

I have recently read your publication "The Next Push" with interest. In particular I note sections on "Roots of Difference" and the reference to the War of Five Nations.

I am a Research Student in the Laws of Cornwall, a topic of interest to Constitutional Lawyers, but not one which is given sufficient attention within Cornwall for whatever reason. Maybe because amongst some people there is much claimed which over states the case.

I have researched, and continue to research, Cornish Law, and in that connection I have provided advice to Andrew George MP including a legal opinion which has been passed to the Lord Chancellor.

The Stannary Law of Cornwall is still part of the law of England and Wales.

It probably grew out of mining law going back to the Romans, certainly it used concepts such as "usufruct" which are found in Roman Law and still in continental systems but not within the English system of law.

It certainly predates the Anglo Saxons. The Stannary Courts may have been abolished the law has not. It can claim to be oldest part of the law of England. It was decided as late as 1979 that it was still possible to claim to be a "privileged tinner" and claim rights under the ancient charters. You can still bound land in Cornwall.

The point is Stannary Law is still current law, of limited application certainly, but still good law. It is not some historical oddity, the rights granted by the ancient Stannary Charters could certainly be claimed by China Clay workers for example.


The Convocation of the Tinners of Cornwall still exists, in theory, as a legal institution. To quote one very eminent Professor of Law it was uniquely powerful having the right to veto Westminster Legislation as well as Royal Charters and Duchy ordinances. It did exercise its power of veto.

There was no and there is no legal institution which could claim the power of the Convocation within the United Kingdom.


Then there is the Duchy which has exercised the minds of eminent judges and the Government's Law Officers since 1600 and before. It has been called a "great mystery", a mode of descent "unknown to common law" a "peculiar title" and a "very singular constitution". In one case the courts decided "all the courts within the Dutchy are conferred upon the (Duke) as sovereign".

As you have mentioned Wales has successfully claimed difference based on language, culture and ethnicity but it cannot claim a parallel unique independent legal system, being home to a legislature of such great power or the rich history of the Duchy. There is no county within England that can claim the extraordinary complex legal history that Cornwall has. I could not imagine being a Research Student into the laws of Somerset of Berkshire, for example. A L Rowse once famously said Cornwall like Wales is not part of England. There is a real question mark in law over the constitutional status.

I am happy to share with you copies of the papers I have produced for Mr George should you wish to see them. I would simply suggest then when considering Cornish Cultural differences you should not overlook Cornwall's unique and extraordinary legal history.

John Kirkhope BA (Hons), LLB (Hons), Dip NP, TEP

Public Notary

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