Popular History of Jersey Chapter 27

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Dispute over revenues

No sooner had the Island settled down once more at peace externally than a series of internal dissensions, party feuds, and rancorous wordy warfares arose to disturb her serenity.

Churchwardens

In 1783, under the Lieut-Governorship of Lieut-Colonel Fall, appointed to succeed Major Corbet (suspended), 5 October 1781, we find the Rev Francis Le Couteur — whose name was so honourably connected with the patriotic spirit he showed at the onset of Rullecourt's invasion — at issue with his parishioners with regard to the nomination of churchwardens and refusing to obey the mandate of the Royal Court not to present the names of those he had chosen to be sworn at the Ecclesiastical Court before the former body had settled the point in dispute; Mr Le Couteur's plea being that the matter was not one for a Civil Court to deal with. In his appeal to His Majesty in Council, 15 October of the same year, he lost the case, which was dismissed with £50 costs, to be paid by the appellant to the respondents.

Two short years after this the States and the Assembly (Lieut-Governor, Bailiff and Jurats) ceased to be on good terms, and as a consequence a quarrel arose over monetary affairs, each body claiming the exclusive right to deal with the revenue of the Island: and whilst this was going on the balance in hand of some 15,177 livres order money, instead of being applied to its proper uses for harbour works and repairs, was lent out by the Assembly to different private individuals.

Merchants' petition

To put an end to this unsatisfactory state of affairs, the merchants of Jersey petitioned both the States and Royal Court to issue such sums as would put into repair the harbours of St Helier and St Aubin, which were in a ruinous condition, and also for money to be applied to new and necessary works. And finding this of no avail, they, together with the principal inhabitants, had recourse to His Majesty in Council; their petition this time being accompanied by one from the States itself for the merchants' prayer to be granted, but so artfully contrived that had His Majesty listened to the plea, the States would have had full control of the whole revenue to the exclusion of the Royal Court.

The States at the same time passed an Act (6 December 1786) adopting the regulations asked for by the merchants and sent it up for confirmation. His Majesty quickly frustrated this well-laid scheme by replying to the effect that the management of the revenue appointed to be raised in Jersey had always been in the hands of the Bailiff, Jurats and their successors, with the consent of the Governor, and by an Order in Council of 8 August 1787, the Act of 6 December of the previous year had to be erased from the records.

No money for States work

This had the direct effect of stopping the work of the States for want of money, and the King was again petitioned by them, with the result that the Bailiff and Jurats were ordered to prepare plans for new harbours, and submit them to the States for approval; whilst if any further disagreement ensued between the two bodies the substance of such was to be sent to His Majesty, who would finally decide between them.

This order was dated 8 August 1779, and plans for the enlargement of St Helier's harbour, and also for works in connection with that commenced long years before at St Aubin, were accordingly prepared and presented to the States, the former being agreed upon, and the latter disapproved of, chiefly on account of an opposition idea set up in favour of a harbour at St Brelade's Bay. Finally, however, 8 February 1790, the constituency of the different parishes agreeing with it, the plans of the Committee, as at first proposed, were approved of.

Meanwhile a spirit of reform had set in, gradually rolling onward, until in 1790 it seems to have reached something like a climax in the matter of the things desired being formulated. The chief items that stirred the Island to its bitter depths being trials by jury — whether or no criminal, civil, and mixed cases should be so tried, or criminal ones only; and the collection and price of wheat rents — both items, there is little doubt, of the utmost importance, though, as it happened, one alone of the two was brought to any final result.

Salaries of officials

Then the matter of the revenue cropped up again, together with one or two items as to the salaries of officials and the election of the Lieut-Bailiff; so that, altogether, the Island from the point of internal economy must have presented a somewhat lively scene — the Clergy and Constables at loggerheads with the States, and the States, on these matters as well, at loggerheads with the Royal Court.

In one part the ball of reform was started rolling on the matter, as aforementioned, of introducing important modifications in the system of judicature, the active leader in the affairs being John Dumaresq, Constable of St Peter's (of whom a few more words by-and-by), concerning which party spirit seems to have run somewhat high. The majority of the people were in favour of reform, especially desiring that civil and mixed cases should be tried by jury as well as criminal ones; the parishes of St Lawrence, St Mary, Trinity, and St Clement alone, by public meetings, protesting against such procedure. A characteristic item published in the Jersey Gazette, 28 October 1786, showing not only the spirit of the times, hut also that "things were about the same then, one hundred years and odd ago, as now:

Headed St Laurens, and evidently referring to a speech delivered by the Rector, it says: "The speech related in your gazette of the seventh inst seems to have made a strong impression on the mind of its author; he has been in an inconceivable sorrow from that fatal moment; you see him no longer approach his parishioners in a smiling manner, telling them that they and the inhabitants of Trinity parish were the only ones who behaved bravely. A great number of the inhabitants of this parish adopt juries and are convinced that it is the only thing which can restore liberty to the country and hinder the wheat rents from being rated at three livres the cabot. The imposture is at an end. They see that their only friends are the clergy, and the party who think as they do. They detest those who have sown lies and calumnies amongst them."

Commission appointed

A commission was, however, eventually appointed, consisting of Thomas Pipon (Attorney-General), John Thomas Durell (Solicitor-General), James Hemery (Jurat), and John Dumaresq (Constable of St Peter's), to prepare a statement of what was the mode of procedure practised on the Island with regard to cases going before juries, and to give their opinion on what they considered the actual Law. And eventually a Projet de Loi was prepared on the matter, to be followed by a Royal Commission which, commencing its work on 22 August 1791, completed its collection of evidence on 28 September, "much fuss, ceremony, and public thanks being liberally dispensed upon the occasion".

And the final result of the matter seems to have been that Mr Dumaresq (who, in his eagerness, had journeyed to London to be early cognisant of the decision) brought back news that the "labours of the Commission had been brought to a close", and that the matter would be submitted to His Majesty in Council so soon as Lord Camden, the President, was sufficiently recovered from sickness. And from that day to this not a word more has been heard about the matter. Trial by jury for criminal cases alone still being the law of the island.

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