States Assembly

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From the States Assembly website

Public entrance to States Building

Our Norman heritage

The Assembly of the States of Jersey is one of the oldest legislatures of the English speaking world. It came into existence in the 16th century but its origins are to be found in earlier times and need to be explained in the context of Jersey's constitutional history.

In 933 Jersey, with the other Channel Islands, was annexed by William Longsword, Duke of Normandy. In 1066 William, Duke of Normandy, defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings and was crowned King of England. Some Jerseymen were doubtless in the expeditionary force. Wace, who wrote the ballad Roman de Rou, describing the Norman army and the battle in graphic detail, included the couplet now engraved in the wall facing the Royal Square:

'Jo di è dirai ke je sui
Wace, de l'isle de Gersui.'

From 1066 to 1204, England, Normandy and the Channel Islands were thus united under one rule - that of the King of England, who was also Duke of Normandy. But England and Normandy were administered separately from London and Caen respectively with different languages, law and money. The Channel Islands continued to be regarded as part of Normandy, and were subject to Norman Customary Law and local customary rules.

The origins of self-government

In 1204 King John lost Normandy to King Philippe-Auguste of France. It was clearly necessary for the King to substitute an administration for the Norman government from which the Islands had been cut off. It might have been possible for the Islands to have been absorbed into the realm of England, but, no doubt wishing to retain the loyalty of the Islanders, the King decreed that they should continue to be governed by the laws to which they were accustomed.

Thus a separate legal system came into existence for Jersey which continues to this day. The King also created a separate administration under a high official appointed by him known as the Warden, an office which was later to become the Governor. Obviously it was not possible for one man, the Warden, to undertake all the duties of government, military, civil and judicial.

It is clear that he had subordinates and it is possible that as early as 1235 there was a Bailiff for Jersey and another for Guernsey. However, the first Bailiff of whom documentary evidence exists was Sir Philippe L'Evesque, appointed in 1277.

By the middle of the 14th century the Bailiff was appointed directly by the King. The Receiver General's accounts of that time also refer to salaries paid to the King's Attorney and the King's Advocate, officials now known as the Attorney General and Solicitor General respectively.

Shortly after the loss of continental Normandy in 1204 King John issued a crucial document which has become known as The Constitutions of King John. This document provided that the Islanders should elect their 12 best men who should be sworn to administer justice (duodecim optimatos juratos). The Jurats, as they became known, and the Bailiff formed the Royal Court which had power to determine all civil and criminal causes except prosecutions for treason.

For many centuries following this establishment of its separate administration, Jersey remained a distant outpost of the Crown within sight of a hostile coast. Several attempts were made by the French to subjugate the Islanders. The Islanders, no doubt appreciative of their special status, and perhaps continuing to regard the King of England as their Duke, remained loyal to the Crown.

For their part successive monarchs conferred many privileges and franchises by Royal Charter. One of the earliest related to the freedom to export goods free of duty. A Charter of Edward III in 1341 confirmed -

'all privileges, liberties, immunities, exemptions and customs in persons goods moneys and other things ... without hindrance or molestation ...'

Thus the twin pillars on which the right to self-government was built may be said to be loyalty of our predecessors to the Crown and the privileges and and liberties conferred by the Crown in recognition of that loyalty.

The States Building viewed from the Royal Square

The development of the States Assembly

The Royal Court was originally not only a law enforcing body but also a law making body. A change in the law was achieved by an Order made by the Privy Council following a petition from the Royal Court. In time the Royal Court developed the practice of consulting representatives of the 12 parishes, namely the Constables and the Rectors, before petitioning the Privy Council.

From this process of consultation emerged in due course a legislative assembly made up of the Jurats, Constables and Rectors (the three estates) over which the Bailiff presided. The assembly became known as Les Etats de Jersey, paralleling the parliamentary assembly of Normandy, then known as Les Etats de Normandie.

The minutes of meetings of the States begin in 1524, but they were then intermingled with the records of the Royal Court. In 1603, probably under the influence of the Governor, Sir Walter Raleigh, (in whose honour a tablet may be seen to the side of the public gallery) the Minutes of the States began to be recorded separately.

Notwithstanding the emergence of the States as a legislative body, the Royal Court continued to exercise legislative functions until 1771. In that year an Order in Council enacting a Code of Laws decreed in effect that henceforth only the States' Assembly should have legislative power. The Assembly remained composed of the Jurats, Constables and Rectors. In 1856 a Law was passed which provided for the election of 14 deputies, three from St Helier and one from each of the other parishes.

The constitutional reforms of 1948

Following the Liberation of the Island from enemy occupation in 1945, and the report of a distinguished Privy Council Committee, under the chairmanship of the then Home Secretary, the States enacted legislation in 1948 which brought about significant constitutional change. The Rectors and the Jurats ceased to be members of the States, and were replaced by 12 Senators and an increased number of deputies. The process of separation of judicial from legislative power which had begun in 1771 was effectively completed.

The Jurats remained members of the Royal Court but no longer exercised legislative functions. The Bailiff remained President of both the Royal Court and the States. In the latter capacity, however, he takes no part in political debate and has no right to vote, his casting vote having been abolished in the States of Jersey Law 2005.

The constitution of the States and its procedures are set out in the States of Jersey Law 2005, and in the Standing Orders made thereunder.

The two official languages of the States are English and French, and members may address the House in either language. In practice the business of the States is now conducted in English. The bilingual nature of the States is, however, recognised by its membership of both the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and the Assemblée Parlementaire de la Francophonie (APF).

Composition of The States Assembly

The present composition of the States, as determined by Article 2 of the States of Jersey Law 2005, is the Bailiff, the Lieut-Governor, 12 Senators, 12 Constables, 29 Deputies, the Dean of Jersey, the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General. The officers of the States are the Greffier of the States, who is clerk of the States, the Deputy Greffier of the States, who is the clerk-assistant of the States, and the Viscount, who is the executive officer of the States.

The Bailiff and Deputy Bailiff

The Bailiff and Deputy Bailiff are appointed by the Crown by Letters Patent and they hold office during the Good Pleasure of Her Majesty until the expiration of the term specified in the Letters Patent, usually the age of 70. The appointments are made after consultation within the Island. The office of Deputy Bailiff was created in 1958.

The Bailiff is President of the States, in which rôle he determines procedure, and acts very much as would the Speaker of a Parliament in the Westminster tradition. In the event of the Bailiff's absence, the Deputy Bailiff acts as President of the States. In the unavoidable absence of both the Bailiff and Deputy Bailiff, such elected member or officer of the States as the Bailiff chooses will preside and in that capacity the presiding officer enjoys the full powers exercised by the Bailiff.

The Royal mace was presented to the Bailiff of Jersey by King Charles II on 28 November 1663 in gratitude for the hospitality he received from the Island on two occasions during his years in exile. The Mace is carried before the Bailiff at meetings of the States Assembly and is placed in an upright position in front of the Bailiff's seat.

The States Chamber in 1970 with both Bailiff and Lieut-Governor present

The Lieut-Governor

The Lieut-Governor is the representative of Her Majesty The Queen in Jersey and commander of the armed forces. As a member, the Lieut-Governor has the right to attend meetings of the States and to speak, but traditionally the Lieut-Governor addresses the States only twice during his term of office - on arrival in the Island, when he is officially welcomed by the States, and on departure when he officially takes his leave.

In the Assembly of the States, the Bailiff has for several centuries had precedence over the Lieut-Governor. In the Chamber the Lieut-Governor occupies a seat to the right of and seven inches lower than that of the President of the States.

The Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General

The Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General are the Law Officers of the Crown, and, among other functions, are the legal advisers of the States. They are appointed by the Crown by Letters Patent. They are members of the States Assembly by virtue of their respective offices, but do not usually attend together. They have the right to speak on all matters of States business but not to vote. The right to address the States Assembly was affirmed by Order in Council of 19 March 1824 and was reaffirmed most recently by the States of Jersey Law. By convention, they do not generally speak on political matters, other than those in which they have a direct official interest. Any member may request a Law Officer to give legal advice on any matter currently before the States.

The Dean

The Dean, the head of the Anglican Church in Jersey, is a member of the States, and the chaplain of the Assembly. He has the right, by virtue of his office, to speak on all matters of States business but not to vote. This right was confirmed in 1948, when the Rectors of the 12 parishes ceased to be members of the States. By convention the Dean speaks only on matters that directly affect the Church or on moral issues.

Greffier of the States

The office of Greffier of the States was created in 1931. Before that time there was a single Greffier who served as Clerk both of the Court and the States. The Greffier of the States is appointed by the Bailiff with the consent of the States. There are no formal qualifications for the office.

The Greffier of the States acts as Clerk of the States. The duties and responsibilities of his office as Clerk are defined by Article 40 of the States of Jersey Law, and the duties of the Greffier as Clerk of the States are set out in the Standing Orders of the States of Jersey.

The Deputy Greffier of the States is clerk-assistant to the States. The Deputy Greffier of the States is appointed by the Greffier of the States with the consent of the Bailiff and, in the event of the absence or incapacity of the Greffier of the States, discharges all the functions of that office. In addition the Greffier of the States may delegate to the Deputy Greffier of the States the discharge of any of the functions of that office.

The Viscount

The origin of the office of Viscount (or 'Vicomte') is obscure but historically the Viscount was appointed by the Crown by Letters Patent. Since 1973 the Viscount has been appointed by the Bailiff.

At one time the Viscount was a member of the States with a right to speak but not to vote. The Viscount's right to address the States ceased in 1842. The Viscount ceased to be a member of the States in 1948 following the constitutional reforms, but continues to attend meetings of the States as executive officer. This position was confirmed by the States of Jersey Law.

The Viscount (or Deputy Viscount) carries the Royal Mace before the Bailiff at the start of each meeting, and is primarily responsible for carrying out orders of the President of the States in regard to unruly behaviour in the Chamber and its precincts, where he exercises the powers of a Centenier. He occasionally issues formal notices on behalf of the States and in respect of other public matters. The Viscount has other responsibilities as an officer of the Royal Court and has statutory powers in relation to inquests, post-mortems and bankruptcy.

The Deputy Viscount is appointed by the Viscount with the approval of the Bailiff. The Deputy Viscount has the same official relationship towards the Viscount as the Deputy Greffier of the States has towards the Greffier.

States Chamber

Elected States Members

Senators

The office of Senator was first created in 1948 following the report of the Committee of the Privy Council on the Proposed Reforms in the Channel Islands. In effect, the Senators replaced the Jurats, being elected by the registered voters of the Island as a whole. Originally, they were elected for terms of nine years but this was reduced to six years in 1966.

Constables

The Constable is the elected head of a parish and is a full member of the States by virtue of his office. Constables are elected for a term of three years by the voters of the parish concerned. Elections are held whenever the office becomes vacant and thus elections occur irregularly. The Constables have been members of the States from the earliest record of States meetings, being one of the three Etats (estates) constituting the States Assembly.

Deputies

The office of Deputy of the States has been in existence for well over a hundred years. A Law was passed in 1856 providing for the elections of 14 deputies, three from St Helier and one from each of the other parishes. Gradually the number of deputies was increased over the years to 17 before the Second World War to 28 in 1948 and to 29 by the addition of a third deputy for St Brelade in 1973.

Deputies are elected by district and these are defined in the States of Jersey Law 2005. The districts correspond to parish boundaries and, in the larger parishes, to administrative districts within the parish. Subject to those constraints, the design of districts and the number of deputies elected for each district is intended to achieve as even as possible a representation of voters by each deputy, although changes in population density have created significant discrepancies.

All elected members of the States take office immediately after being sworn in before the Royal Court and remain in office until their term is completed

Legislature and executive

The States Assembly consists of a single chamber. The principal functions of the States are -

  • to pass Laws (which require the sanction of Her Majesty in Council) and Regulations on all domestic matters
  • to approve annual estimates of public expenditure (revenue and capital)
  • to appoint a Council of Ministers charged with responsibility for the different aspects of public business
  • to appoint a Public Accounts Committee and scrutiny panels to hold the executive to account
  • to determine policy on propositions presented by Ministers, scrutiny panels and other bodies or individual members, and executive matters such as compulsory purchases
  • to debate and decide issues of public importance
  • to consider petitions for the redress of grievances
  • to represent the people of Jersey

Thus the States Assembly exhibits all the usual characteristics of a parliament - legislature and debating chamber - while at the same time taking executive decisions on a wide range of issues.

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