Obituary – William Cain CBE QC TH (C1 1949 -53)

His Honour T W Cain CBE QC TH (C1 1949 -53)

Constitutionalist and Conservationist.

William Cain was the First Deemster (Chief Judge) and Deputy Lieutenant Governor on the Isle of Man from 1998 to 2003 during which time he greatly enhanced the judicial reputation of the Island. The son of a former Second Deemster James Arthur Cain, William was born in the Isle of Man in 1935.

After Marlborough he went to Worcester College, Oxford, followed by two years of National Service. He was called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn in 1959 and admitted to the Manx Bar in 1961. William then worked for T W Cain and Sons until 1980, when he became the Island’s Attorney General, a post he held for the next 13 years.

His time as Attorney General was marked by many changes that he initiated. The most important of these was the establishment of a legal framework for Ministerial Government on the Island that broke new ground, and for the first time granted real executive authority to the Manx Government.

Another key piece of legislation was the radical modernisation of the Island’s company laws, where he was solely responsible for the Companies Act 1986. This revolutionised the form and content of a company’s Memorandum and Articles of Association. More importantly, it was introduced well before any similar legislation was brought in elsewhere in the British Isles and was instrumental in helping to establish the Island as a forward thinking jurisdiction.

Against very considerable political, and general opposition he promoted Mutual Legal Assistance, initially between the Isle of Man and the United Kingdom, but thereafter with other jurisdictions. His vision and drive also led to the antiquated Conveyancing procedures on the Island being transformed to enable the Island to become a leader in this field with the successful introduction of digital mapping and land registration.

He led negotiations concerning the Island’s extension of its territorial waters and undersea mineral rights. He also set up the now well-established triennial meeting of Law Officers of small jurisdictions from various Commonwealth countries. He was pivotal in the establishment of the Island’s Merchant Shipping Register, and the Island is now a leading member of The Red Ensign Group.

Throughout his period as the Attorney General, and typical of his integrity, he fought against secrecy and asset protection legislation. He became Second Deemster in 1993 and followed on to be First Deemster in 1998. His time in this role was marked by considerable reform, successfully tackling a large trial backlog by formalising the position of Acting Deemster, and by the establishment of a new post of Deputy Deemster.

He introduced many important changes of the practices and procedures of the High Court, in particular, to substantially reduce the time taken for proceedings to get to trial. He also established the Manx Law Reports, which have been of invaluable help to practitioners. His work amounted to a complete revolution in Manx Law.

Although he sometimes faced strong opposition to his proposals, he was highly regarded and admired as a man of great integrity. His advice to the Island Government was fundamentally important to the remarkable success of the Isle of Man economy in the 1980s and 90s. During his time in the Island Judiciary, the Bar grew no less than six times.

Outside the Law, he had strong interests in music, charity work, and preserving the countryside; he was for 36 years Chairman of the Manx Wildlife Trust from its inception in 1973. He was instrumental in the introduction of the 1990 Manx Wildlife Act, which established the principles of protecting many listed species of animals and plants. As Honorary Chairman of the Isle of Man Branch of the United Nations Association, he promoted and strengthened relations with other nations.

Besides a CBE for his work, in 2011 he was awarded the Tynwald Honour, the highest national award that Tynwald, the Manx parliament, can bestow upon an individual. He survived by his wife, Felicity, and three children.

Air Marshal Sir Ian Macfadyen KCVO CB OBE
Former Lieutenant Governor for the Isle of Man