Passing contracts

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The Bailiff's official seal and the earlier seal of Thomas Lempriere

The passing of contracts for the sale and purchase of property in Jersey does not involve the signature of either party. To this day they are required to appear personally in Court on a Friday afternoon and raise their right hands to indicate their acceptance of the transaction, a description of which is read by the Bailiff or his deputy.

It it is not uncommon for either party to withdraw from a sale at the last minute. This can be done without penalty, and can also result in other transactions, which are dependent on the chain of buyers and sellers, also being withdrawn at the eleventh hour.

Until nearly the end of the 20th century contracts were still written in French in a traditional form which had not changed over many centuries. Today they are printed on paper, but up the Second World War, and probably beyond, they were handwritten on parchment, often supplied by merchants from Normandy.

Until 1963 a twice-yearly Exposition des Contrats was held, during which the official seal was affixed in green wax by the Court Ushers to all contracts passed in the previous six months.

Bailiff Lord Coutanche, in his autobiography, tells the amusing story of the day the seal went missing:

"On one occasion, in the time of Philip Rossier, who succeeded my grandfather as Registrar, when the morning session was finished, and it was time to go to lunch, the Seal was missing. Mr Rossier and his assistants searched everywhere but the Seal, which they had been using all morning, could not be found. The needs of the inner man called and Mr Rossier and his assistants finally went home to lunch. They did not know what they were going to do after lunch because, without the Seal, there was literally nothing for them to do. The only reassuring thing was that the Seal could not possibly have got out of the room and must be back there somewhere.
"When they came back thay began to search all over again. Suddenly one of the Registrar's assistants said 'I suppose, SIr, it wouldn't be possible that the Seal has dropped into the tuck-up of your trousers? Rossier said 'Quite impossible'. I have walked from here to my house and back again. It couldn't possibly still be there. But let us look'. And there it was!

After this incident a copy of the Seal was made so that the original could be kept safe. The replica has since been used for all ordinary business.

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