Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Oaths of Allegiance in Jersey

On reading the recent Hansard, I was struck by the sentence:

"Nationality for qualification for election - The Committee [Privileges and Procedures] agreed that this should be confined to British citizens in accordance with provisions for national parliaments and because of the requirement to swear an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty;"

I wrote to Constable Juliette Gallichan as Chairman of the PPC to clarify what the Committee's position is regarding those religious organisations such as the Society of Friends (Quakers) who, on grounds of conscience and belief, refuse to swear any oath, and historically this has also included refusing any oath of allegiance to the Crown.

I noted the following point in Jersey history where it is mentioned:

Oath taking was a common procedure required by law in the seventeenth century, from the expected oath of allegiance to the King, to the 1665 proclamation which required "the abjuring of Papal authority and the doctrine of transubstantiation." . In in the nineteenth century a Jersey Quaker Philip Lemprière was imprisoned for refusing to take the oath when called to be a witness at the Royal Court. He and George Payn were called as witnesses in a court case in 1837. As they had both refused to swear, they said they would affirm instead, but this was not permissible under Jersey law at that time although it was allowed in England As a result of the Lemprière case, on the 21st of October 1847 an Order in Council in Jersey was made allowing Quakers and Moravians to make an "affirmation when an oath is or shall be required".(1)

In the UK MPs can affirm instead and they can swear on the Qur'an too if they prefer, in Welsh or Gaelic if so inclined!
Currently, all MPs who wish to sit in Parliament, must recite the following:

"I [name of MP] swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God."

For those uncomfortable with the deeply Christian tone, there is the option:

"I [name of MP] do swear that I will be faithful..."

For some people it's not the fact of swearing before God that's the problem, it's the fact of swearing an oath at all.
Quakers, for instance, object to swearing oaths, believing that it is their duty to tell the truth at all times, not just when on oath. People who object for this or other reasons to swearing oaths can make an "affirmation" that they are telling the truth.
For MPs, these are the words:

"I [name of MP] do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law."

I asked her "Please can you confirm that an affirmation this is sufficient for qualification for election, and if possible provide the form of this affirmation?"

Here is her very complete reply, which she very kindly allowed me to share publicly.

Members who swear a religious oath do so before 'God' The text is:

You swear and promise before God that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of (Senator) (Deputy); that you will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and successors, according to Law; that you will uphold and maintain the laws, privileges, liberties and franchises of Jersey, opposing whomsoever may wish to infringe the same; that you will attend the meetings of the States whenever you are called upon to do so; and generally that you will fulfil all the duties imposed upon you by virtue of the said office. All of which you promise to do on your conscience.

That does not specify a Christian God and members of the Jewish faith have happily taken the oath in the past and I can see no reason why a Muslim, Hindu etc would not also be happy to swear before their own God.

We have never used a book such as the Bible in Jersey, members simply raise their right hand in the Royal Court and the oath is read out.

Those without religious faith or those who do not wish to swear before God for any reason can affirm under the provisions of the Solemn Affirmations (Jersey) Law 1963. That changes the first few words of the oath to become the following affirmation -

I, AB, do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of (Senator) (Deputy) (etc as above)

This is identical to the position in the UK which you mentioned. I assume a Quaker in Jersey might decide to affirm rather than swear an oath.

There is, however, no getting around the allegiance to Her Majesty which is a requirement for everyone who wants to be a States member. This is identical to the position in the UK where, for example, the Sinn Fein members are unable to take their seats because they are not prepared to take the oath of allegiance. There is obviously a political argument that parliamentarians should not be required to swear allegiance to the monarch but this is the current position in the UK and Jersey and a person elected who is not prepared to swear allegiance cannot take their seat. This is why the nationality requirement is in place at the moment as a member cannot pledge allegiance to a foreign country instead of the Crown.

In the Northern Ireland Assembly, for obvious reasons, there is no oath of allegiance for members.

kind regards
Juliette Gallichan
Constable of St Mary



voiceforchildren said...


Congratulations on getting Constable Gallichan to share some information with you! She didn't show you the letter she received from CPO Graham Power and her reply to him did she?

TonyTheProf said...

No, nor my complaint to PPC about Ben Shenton's own private version of "uncredited media" - i.e. taping Freddie Cohen!!

But credit where it is due - at least the position for Quakers or people who don't take oaths is clear, whereas Hansard gave a much more restrictive idea.

Note that I always ask permission if I'm going to use an email from an individual (and I have their reply in email, not verbal). This is (a) a matter of courtesy, which I happen (against Ben Shenton) to believe to be important; (b) means that any Data Protection issues that might arise from authorised use, simply don't.

Anonymous said...

The issue is also about an oath of
allegiance to the monarch. There is not an alternative oath although they say that there is since both oaths necessitate swearing an oath of allegiance to the English monarch - if you do do swear the oath you cannot be politically represented as an MP.
In other words, the opportunity for political representations for Republicans is denied. Any such system cannot claim to be a representative democracy.