Comprehensive clarification of how counsel from outside the Isle of Man can be licensed for Manx cases was recently given in a Manx High Court ruling.


The Isle of Man is a separate legal jurisdiction to that of England and Wales, and therefore barristers and solicitors qualified in England and Wales (or anywhere else outside the island) have no automatic right of audience before Manx courts, no matter how senior they may be. Only Manx qualified and commissioned advocates may appear before a Manx court, unless a temporary advocate's licence has been granted by the court. Such licences are granted for the duration of the proceedings. There are other restrictions relating to the practice of law within the jurisdiction of the Isle of Man contained in the Advocates Act 1976 of Tynwald.


In Gubay v Willers (May 8 2012 judgment), the Isle of Man's First Deemster David Doyle considered and summarised the law relating to the granting of temporary advocates' licences, before declining to approve a licence to the applicants, Mr and Mrs Willers. Deemster Doyle particularly focused on Section 17 of the Advocates Act 1995, which sets out the test for the court to apply when considering an application. Section 17(2) provides that:

"(2) The First Deemster shall issue a temporary Advocate's licence under section 15(1)(b) only to a person who is qualified under subsection (1) if he is satisfied –

(a) that the licence is required for the purposes of specific proceedings before a court, a tribunal, or a commission or committee of inquiry in the Island; and

(b) that –

(i) no advocate who holds a commission issued under section 15(1)(a) is available for such proceedings; or

(ii) such an advocate is available but could not act without a conflict of interest occurring; or

(iii) the proceedings require knowledge and experience of a nature not ordinarily available in the Island; or

(iv) the proceedings are likely to be so lengthy that they would impose unreasonable demands on the time and resources of such an advocate; or

(v) such circumstances exist as are specified in regulations made under this Part."


An applicant seeking the issue of a temporary advocate's licence must state the precise grounds under Section 17(2); a general statement will not suffice. Commonly, parties seek to rely on the knowledge and experience ground. However, previous cases make it clear that the test is not whether there is an advocate on the island who has the requisite knowledge and experience and is capable of conducting such litigation, but whether such knowledge and expertise is ordinarily available in the island. The existence of complex issues within the litigation is not by itself sufficient to secure a temporary advocate's licence, nor is the fact that there are concurrent proceedings within another jurisdiction being conducted by the same counsel. Furthermore, the fact that cases of a particular type are rare in the Isle of Man will not sway the court into granting a licence if the issues in the proceedings are not beyond the capabilities of most Manx advocates.

In the judgment, Deemster Doyle referred to his comments in Arquebus Limited (July 16 2004 judgment):

"Indeed the Island's independent Manx Bar, whose members practice in a jurisdiction which holds itself out as a first class international finance centre, has built up an impressive degree of specialisation."

The high financial value of a claim in itself is not enough for a licence to be issued. Judge of Appeal Tattersall in Braddan Parish Commissioners (February 12 2011 judgment), where the claim was possibly valued at over £1 million, stated that "save in an exceptional case, I am bound to say that the value of the case at this level will not have much impact on whether the statutory test is met".

Deemster Doyle considered the impact of the Human Rights Act 2001 of Tynwald, which requires the court to give effect to Section 17 in a way which is compatible with the convention rights, and particularly the right to a fair trial (Article 6). The court recognised that equality of arms in terms of legal counsel may be relevant in some cases, but it is not an absolute right and is not part of the statutory test. After consideration of various cases – both English and European (which are persuasive in the Isle of Man, but not binding) – Deemster Doyle concluded that the important issue is to have an advocate who can ensure that a case is properly and adequately placed before the court.

In determination of the application, Deemster Doyle stated:

"Based on the information provided I am not satisfied that the proceedings in ORD 09/0011 require knowledge and experience of a nature not ordinarily available in the Island … There are well over 200 practising advocates in the Island. Amongst them are advocates with a great deal of knowledge and experience. I accept that not all of them regularly appear in court but of the significant number of those that do the vast majority would be able to deal with the legal and factual issues raised in this case. There are very many competent, knowledgeable, experienced and highly skilled litigation advocates within this jurisdiction. These proceedings do not require knowledge and experience of a nature not ordinarily available in the Island."


Where the test is met, temporary licences to counsel not admitted to practise in the Isle of Man will continue to be granted. Deemster Doyle's comprehensive summary and elucidation of the law applicable to such licence applications is a welcome addition to Manx jurisprudence.

For further information on this topic please contact Vicki Unsworth at M&P Legal by telephone (+44 1624 695800), fax (+44 1624 695801) or email ([email protected]).