Origins of title
A title, originally Connétable, which, beginning as the name of the head of the Imperial stables (Comte de l'étable), rose to be the designation of high dignitaries, the Constable of France, the Constable of Scotland, the Constable of the Tower. In Jersey the Constable is unpaid civic head of his parish, represents it in the States and presides over the Parish Assembly. In early days Constables often held office for life, but since 1621 a new election is held every three years. A change of law in 2011 led to all 12 Constables being elected on the same day as Deputies in what was effectively Jersey's first general election.
Today the title is officially Constable, and is universally used as such by the island media. However, in recent years the use of Connétable has crept back into use, particularly in the country parishes, and fostered by the holders of the office themselves. This may have had something to do with the increased promotion of the French 'flavour' of the island in tourism advertising in the late 20th century, and may also have been influenced by the continuing use of French for other parish offices, such as centenier, vingtenier, Procureur du Bien Public, although officier du Connétable is rarely found as an alternative for Constable's Officer.
The position has been described as the equivalent of an English mayor, but although some Constables of St Helier described themselves as mayor in the late 19th century, the roles are really quite distinct. Neither is the Jersey office really the equivalent of the French maire.
Constables have few real powers. They are generally responsible for the smooth administration of their municipality, assisted by a Constable's secretary and other paid staff according to the size of the parish. Although they have considerable influence over the allocation of the parish budget, they can be overruled at any time by the vote of an assembly of parishioners (Assemblée). They have some powers delegated by the States, in matters such as Sunday opening of commercial enterprises within their boundaries.
The involvement of the Constables and Rectors as advisors to the Royal Court began in the 16th century, probably during a period when Jersey was under French rule. A charter known as The Ordinances of Maulevrier was drawn up, confirming all existing institutions, and requiring the Bailiff, Jurats, Rectors and Constables to choose future Jurats. This is thought to be the embryo of today's States, with the Jurats becoming involved in forming new legislation with input from the Constables and Rectors on behalf of the parishes. It is believed that Etats, a word already in use in France, may have been coined at this time to stand for Jersey's three "estates" of bench, church and parish.