Skip to main content

United Kingdom Legal Research: British External Territories

This guide will help with your United Kingdom Legal Research.

Map of British External Territories

Legislative authority

The power to make laws for the British overseas territories is dispersed among various authorities. It is not uniform throughout the territories. But it has in common that legislative authority resides both in the United Kingdom and in (or in respect of) each territory. Laws enacted by a legislative authority constituted specifically in or for a territory are sometimes called 'local legislation', to distinguish them from laws made for a territory by a legislative authority in the United Kingdom.

Anguilla

Most law in force in Anguilla consists of Acts enacted by the local legislature of Anguilla together with subordinate legislation made under these Acts. Local legislation is supplemented by certain Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament and Orderse in Council (which include the Constitution) that have been extended to Anguilla.

Bermuda

The law in force in Bermuda consists predominantly of local Acts enacted by the legislature of Bermuda and subordinate legislation made under such Acts. This local 'statute book' is supplemented by certain Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament and Orders in Council (including the Constitution) made under United Kingdom Acts that have been extended to Bermuda. Local legislation may also incorporate United Kingdom laws a part of the law of Bermuda.


British Antarctic Territory

The statute law in force in the British Antarctic Territory mainly comprises Ordinances enacted by the Commissioner and instruments made under them. These local laws are supplemented by certain Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament and Orders in Council that have been extended to the Territory. The incorporation of English statutes, common law and rules of equity is provided for in detail in sections of the Administration of Justice Ordinance 1990.

British Indian Ocean Territory

The statute law in force in the British Indian Ocean Territory comprises Ordinances made by the Commissioner and instruments made under them, and certain Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament and Orders in Council that have been extended to the Territory. The incorporation of English statutes, common law and rules of equity is provided for in detail by sections of the Courts Ordinance 1983.

Laws of the BIOT (unofficial site)

British Virgin Islands

Most law in force is constitute by legislation, enacted by the local legislature of the Virgin Islands, and subordinate legislation made under such Acts. This local legislation is supplemented by certain Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament and Orders in Council (including the Constitution) that have been extended to the Virgin Islands. Local laws may also incorporate United Kingdom legislation, and the common law and rules of equity, as part of the law of the Virgin Islands.

Cayman Island

Most law in force in the Cayman Islands is constituted by legislation, enaced by the local Legislature of the Cayman Islands, and subordinate legislation made under such laws.The local legislation is supplemented by certain Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament and Orders in Council (including the Constitution) that have been extended to the Islands. United Kingdom legislation which has not been extended to the Islands may be incorporated by local law and English common law forms part of the law of the Cayman Islands. Certain Jamaican laws may still be in force.

Laws in Force (requires free registration)

Laws Adopted

Cayman Island Statutes (Westlaw) (UniMelb access)

Falkland Islands

Most law in force in the Falklands consists of legislation enacted by the local legislature, together with subordinate legislation made under them. The local legislation is supplemented by certain Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament and Orders in Council (including the Constitution) which have been extended to the Falkland Islands. In addition, the incorporation into the law of the territory of certain United Kingdom statutes and the common law and rules of equity for the time being applicable in England is provided for by the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance.

Gibraltar

Most of the law in force consists of local Acts enacted by the legislature of Gibraltar, and subordinate legislation made under such Acts. This body of local legislation is supplemented by certain Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament and Orders in Council that have been extended to Gibraltar. Local legislation also provides for the incorporation into Gibraltar law of a list of United Kingdom statutes; it also incorporates the common law and the rules of equity from time to time in force in England, so far as they may be applicable to the circumstances of Gibraltar and subject to such modifications thereto as such circumstances may require.

Laws of Gibraltar contains all primary and secondary legislation consolidated to date.

Montserrat

Most law in force is constituted by legislation, enacted by the local Legislature of Montserrat, and subordinate legislation made under such Acts. The local legislation is supplemented by certain Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament and Orders in Council (which include the Constitution) that have been extended to Montserrat. United Kingdom legislation which has not been extended to Montserrat may be incorporated by local Act, and English common law and rules of equity from time to time in force in England form part of the law of Montserrat.

Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands

Pitcairn has its own statute book of Ordinances and subordinate legislation made under them, in particular regulations made by the Island Council. Certain Acts of Parliament and Orders in Council have been extended to the islands. In addition, the Constitution provides that the common law, the rules of equity and the statutes of general application as in force in and for England for the time being are in force in Pitcairn, so far as local circumstances and the limits of local jurisdiction permit the subject to any existing or future Ordinance.

Laws of Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands

St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha

Apart from certain Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament and Orders in Council that extend to the territory (or to any part of it), the statute law in force consists of separate laws, called Ordinances, enacted for each of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. The incorporation into the law of St Helena of English statutes, common law and rules of equity is provided for in detail by the English Law (Application) Ordinance 2005. In turn, the incorporation of St Helena law into the law of Ascension and the law of Tristan da Cunha is provided for by Ordinance.

Laws

South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands

The statute law in force in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands mainly comprises Ordinances enacted by the Commissioner, and instruments made under them. These local laws are supplemented by certains Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament and Orders in Council that have been extended to the territory. Local legislation has incorporated English statutes, common law and rules of equity to the same extent as the Falkland Islands.

Legislation

Sovereign Base Areas, Akrotiri and Dhekelia

The statute law in force consists mainly of Ordinances enacted by the Administrator, together with laws of the former colony of Cyprus (some since amended by Ordinance) that were in force in the Areas immediately before 16 August 1960 and have not been repealed since that date. These local laws are suppplemented by certain Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament and Orders in Council that have been extended to the Sovereign Base Areas. The incorporation of English statutes, common law and rules of equity is provided for in the Courts (Constitution and Jurisdiction) Ordinance 2007. The incorporation of directly applicable European Union rules is provided for by the European Community (Protocol Measures) Ordinance 2004.

Legislation

Turks and Caicos Islands

Most law in force is constituted by legislation, enacted by the territory legislature, and subordinate legislation made under such Ordinances. The local legislation is supplemented by certain Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament and Orders in Council (including the Constitution) that have been extended to the islands. United Kingdom legislation which has not been extended to the Islands may be incorporated by local law, and the common law and rules of equity form part of the law of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Some laws of the Bahamas and Jamaica still form part of the law of the islands.

Source: British Overseas Territories / Ian Hendry and Susan Dickson

Books

Further research

British Overseas Territories

In the three decades after the Second World War, most British colonies and dominions became new independent states and members of the Commonwealth. A number of small territories retained links of various kinds to the UK, including some territories directly dependent on the UK for budgetary aid, linked to the UK because of the wishes of the inhabitants or, in some cases, maintained as military bases or for their longer term strategic value.

Source: The Overseas Territories: Security, Success and Sustainability

The territories are Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie & Oeno Islands, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Sovereign Base Areas, Akrotiri and Dhekelia, Turks and Caicos Islands

Source: UK Government: Supporting Overseas Territories

This tab includes information on:

Judicial authority

Judicial authority in most of the British overseas territories is organised at four levels, although the precise arrangements vary as between the different territories. At the apex is Her Majesty in Council, that is to say Her Majesty advised by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Below that final level of appeal, each territory either has its own Court of Appeal, or shares a common Court of Appeal. Below that, each territory either has its own court of unlimited civil and criminal jurisdiction, usually but not always called a Supreme Court, or shares such a court. Below that, each territory has its own magistrates' courts. The only exception is the Sovereign Base Areas, where the structure differs below the level of final appeal to Her Majesty in Council.

Source: British Overseas Territories Law / Ian Hendry and Susan Dickson

The availablity of court records is not extensive or comprehensive for these territories. Online sources of judgments are given where available:

Anguilla

The High Court and the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court have jurisdiction in Anguilla. Final appeal lies to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Other judgments can be found through CommonLII.

Bermuda

The Constitution establishes a Supreme Court and a Court of Appeal. Final appeal lies to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Courts of summary jurisdiction are established by local legislation.

Court of Appeal and Supreme Court Judgments (2007-current) are available on the Bermuda Government website.

Bermuda Judgments (2012-current) and Bermuda Law Reports (1981-current) are available through Justis (UniMelb access).

Other judgments can be found through CommonLII.

British Antarctic Territory

The British Antarctic Territory Order 1989 does not itself establish any courts. The Supreme Court and Magistrate's Court are established by Ordinance. By virtue of the Falklands Islands Courts (Overseas Jurisdiction) Order 1989, the Supreme Court and Magistrate's Court of the Falkland Islands respectively have jurisdiction to hear and determine any civil or criminal proceedings in respect of matters arising under the law of the British Antarctic Territory which are within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court or the Magistrate's Court of the Territory. There is a Court of Appeal for the Territory, established by Order in Council. Final appeal lies to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

British Indian Ocean Territory

 The Territory has a Supreme Court and a Magistrate's Court established by Ordinance. The Territory has a Court of Appeal, established by Order in Council. Final appeal lies to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

British Virgin Islands

The Constitution provides for the High Court and the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court to continue to have jurisdiction in the Virgin Islands. The Constitution also provides for the establishment by law of courts and tribunals subordinate to the Supreme Court. Magistrates' courts are established by local Act. Final appeal in civil and criminal matters lies to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court acts as the Court of Appeal for the Virgin Islands.

British Virgin Islands Cases (1996-current) are available through Justis (UniMelb access).

Other judgments can be found through CommonLII.

Cayman Islands

The Constitution establishes a Grand Court and a Court of Appeal. The Constitution also provides for courts subordinate to the Grand Court to be established by local law and gives the Grand Court jurisdiction to supervise the proceedings of such courts. A Summary Court, presided over by a magistrate, has been established by local laws. Final appeal lies to the Judical Committee of the Privy Council.

Cayman Island Law Reports and unreported judgments are available online (requires free registration).

Other judgments can be found through CommonLII.

Falkland Islands

The Constitution establishes a Supreme Court and a Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court has unlimited jurisdiction to hear and determine any civil or criminal proceedings under any law of the Islands. Subordinate courts are established by local legislation. Final appeal lies to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Gibraltar

The Constitution establishes a Supreme Court and a Court of Appeal. The Constitution provides for the circumstances in which final appeals may be brought to the Privy Council, and such appeals are also regulated by a separate Order in Council. Courts of summary jurisdiction are established by local legislation.

Judgments from the Privy Council, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court (from 1812 to 1979 and from 2010 onwards) are available on the Government of Gibraltar website.

Montserrat

The Constitution provides for the High Court and the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court to continue to have jurisdiction in Montserrat. The Constitution also provides for the establishment by law of courts and tribunals subordinate to the Supreme Court. The Magistrate's Court is established by local Act. Final appeal in civil and criminal matters lies to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court acts as the Court of Appeal for Montserrat.

Judgments are also available through the Attorney-General's Chambers, Government of Montserrat.

Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie & Oeno Islands

The Constitution provides for the Pitcairn Supreme Court and the Pitcairn Court of Appeal. Final appeal lies to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The Magistrate's Court is established by Ordinance.

Judgments from 2004 to 2006 are available through PacLII.

Judgments from 2012 onwards are available through the Pitcairn Government website.

Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha

The Constitution establishes a Supreme Court of St Helena and a Court of Appeal of St Helena. It provides that these courts are also the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal for Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. Final appeal lies to the Judical Committee of the Privy Council. There are separate magistrates' courts for each of the islands.

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands

The South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Order 1985 does not itself establish any courts. The Supreme Court and Magistrate's Court are established by Ordinances. By virtue of the Falkland Islands Courts (Overseas Jurisdiction) Order 1989, the Supreme Court and the Magistrate's Court of the Falkland Islands respectively have jurisdiction to hear and determine any civil or criminal proceedings in respect of matters arising under the law of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands which are within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court or the Magistrate's Court of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. There is no Court of Appeal for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Instead the territory shares a Court of Appeal with the Falkland Islands. Final appeal lies to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Sovereign Base Areas, Akrotiri and Dhekelia

The Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia Order in Council 1960 does not itself establish any courts. Local legislation establishes s first instance courts a Resident Judge's Court with exclusive original jurisdiction in criminal and some civil cases, and a Senior Judges' Court with exclusive original jurisdiction in certain civil matters. The Senior Judges' Court also has jurisdiction to hear and determine appeals from decisions of the Resident Judge's Court and from its own first instance decisions. Final appeal lies to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Turks and Caicos Islands

The Constitution establishes a Supreme Court and a Court of Appeal. Final appeal lies to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Judgments can be found through CommonLII.

Government papers

The 1999 White Paper Partnership for Progress and Prosperity set out a new relationship between the UK and its Overseas Territories based on the principles of self-determination, mutual responsibilities, and autonomy, and a pledge of UK help when needed. British citizenship was extended to most of the people of the Territories.

In 2012, the British government released another White Paper, The Overseas Territories: Security, Success and Sustainability.

Treaties

Overseas Territories do not have the authority to become party to treaties in their own right. The UK must extend the territorial scope of its ratification of treaties to include them. This is normally done either at the time of ratification, or at some later date.

For more information, see the Guidelines on extension of treaties to oversea territories.