Alexander Moncrieff Coutanche, Baron Coutanche (9 May 1892 – 18 December 1973) is a former Bailiff of Jersey.
Early life and education
Coutanche was born in Saint Saviour, the younger son and third child of Adolphus Arnold Coutanche (1856-1921) and Jane Alexandrina Finlayson ( -1909). His Christian names were chosen in honour of his mother's Scottish ancestry.
He was educated at La Chasse preparatory school, Jersey High School and Victoria College before going to study law at the University of Caen. He then attended Carlisle and Gregson's London Academy with the intention of entering the Indian Civil Service. However, although he passed the entrance examination he was rejected on health grounds due to the discovery of a systolic heart murmur.
Having studied law before attempting to enter the civil service, Coutanche entered the chambers of John Beaumont at the Middle Temple in 1912. He aimed to practise at the Chancery bar, but was instead called to the Jersey bar in 1913. On the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Coutanche served as an assistant to a government secretary in Jersey. He was ineligible to join the Inns of Court regiment due to his previously discovered heart murmur, so went to work at a munitions factory, rising from a worker through to management level. He was called to the English bar in 1915.
In 1917 he volunteered for work with the War Claims Commission and was posted to Belgium with the rank of Lieutenant. During his time in Belgium he won the Belgian Croix de Guerre and was appointed chevalier of the Order of the Crown. He left the army in 1920 with the rank of Captain. He returned to his chambers in London, but then had to return to work at the Jersey chambers due to the illness of his father.
In 1925 Coutanche was appointed Solicitor-General, and went on to reform the Law Officers Department and the States Greffe. He was promoted to Attorney-General in 1931. He did much to reform and update court proceedings, including the introduction of English as the court language. He was the first Attorney-General to make an address for the prosecution in English. In 1935, the Bailiff, Charles de Carteret, retired and Coutanche succeeded him. He was the last Bailiff appointed for life and the last under the sole prerogative of the Crown without the obligation to consult the States of Jersey.
Coutanche took on the additional role of Governor when the island was demilitarised in 1940. He was knighted in 1946.He was made a life peer in the Birthday Honours of 1961 taking the title of Baron Coutanche, of St Brelade in the Island of Jersey and of the City of Westminster. He retired as Bailiff in 1961. During the period when he was simultaneously a member of the legislatures of Jersey and the United Kingdom he sat as a cross-bencher in the House of Lords; upon his retirement as Bailiff he took the Conservative whip.
Before the German Occupation the importance of the Bailiff in legislative and administrative matters had been gradually diminishing as the States of Jersey began to exercise greater control. However, the need for centralised administration during the Occupation from 1940 to 1945 made the Bailiff a commanding figure in the circumstances of trying to maintain the life of the island.
Although he continued in his role for another 16 years after the war ended, the constitutional reforms of 1948 which removed the Jurats from the States, replacing them with Senators, separated more clearly legislature and judiciary. Political leadership now rested more clearly with the Senators as purely political senior elected representatives.
He was an honorary Bencher of the Middle Temple and Doctor of Laws of the University of Caen.
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- The Times, obituary 19 December 1973
- Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
- A Biographical Dictionary of Jersey Vol 2
- The Memoirs of Lord Coutanche