Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The States of Jersey

Something historical today. Here is an extract from "Jersey in the 15th and 16th Centuries" (1931),  by A.C. Saunders.  It is the section on the States of Jersey and how the Constables (as elected members) provided the first real democratic accountability to Islanders. The Jurats were elected, but for life, and they really didn't owe any allegience to ordinary people.

As the Constables may or may not remain in the States, given the outcome of the Referendum, and how the States decide to act on that, it is perhaps worth looking at how they first got into the States.

Notice how the Jurats were supposed to seek advice from the Constables when they were not part of the States, but often ignored that advice. It might be worth considering that arguments have been made that in an assembly without Constables, the Constables could advise the Deputies on Parish Matters. Whether that would be heeded is for the future to see, but a lesson of the past is that an advisory role is a very weak one.

There's a bit more on the history and role of the Constables in my short 3 minute You Tube presentation at:  

and there's also the note in Saunders that "any member absent from a meeting of the States after being duly summoned shall be fined". Perhaps that should be brought back, and used to deal with members absenting themselves for extended coffee breaks, or being late coming back to the Chamber after lunch!

On the Constables, it is also worth noting that in 1891, Philippe Baudains, Constable of St Helier, succeeded in replacing the old open voting at elections with the ballot box and secret voting, bringing much better democracy to the Island. It was a Constable, and not a Deputy who did this.

The States of Jersey
by A.C. Saunders
Prior to the year 1591 the Island was governed by the Governor and Jurats, who, from time to time, especially when money had to be raised, called in the assistance of the several Constables to gather in the various supplies which had to be obtained from the people, Some-times the advice of the clergy was asked for, as they were considered better educated and of greater wisdom than ordinary people, but after the report of the Royal Commission of the 30th April, 1591, it was decided that all power should be placed in the hands of the States, consisting of ,Jurats, Constables and Rectors, and that the majority of the three bodies should decide what laws were required, and thus was established the States of Jersey.
The Governor retained the right to negative any proposal which he considered adverse to the interests of the Crown and no levy or tax was to be imposed without the approval of the Lords of the Privy Council.
Evidently at this time the Lords were not satisfied with the condition of affairs in the Island, and on the 10th May 1590, a letter was sent by the Council to Philip de Carteret, Seigneur de St. Ouen, Amys de Carteret, Giles Lempriere and other principal inhabitants, accusing them of neglecting the interests of the Island.
"As the two little Islands under which ships doe usually harbour and resorte are decayed in their platforms and at present unfurnished of ordinance and unfortified, notwithstanding the place is of great danger and most subject to any attempt to be made by the enemy, wherein we do not a little marvel of your negligence and want of that due care of your safeteys and Her Majesty's service as becometh (being a matter to be done at the common charge of the Island) so doe we in Her Majesty's name directly charge and require you to see the said Island forth refortified and the platformes perfectly planted with ordinance and sufficiently guarded as the Captain shall think fitt and as hath been in the best manner usually observed and kept heretofore."
The Council decided that, as Jersey was so near the coast of France and liable to be raided at any time, it behoved the inhabitants to make such preparations to protect their own interests and " that some collection be made in goode and indifferent sorte on the inhabitants of that Isle to be employed that waye " and Good Queen Bess threatened with due penalties those of the inhabitants who failed to do their duty in that respect.
But the inhabitants continued in their old ways and ignored the direction of the Privy Council to such an extent that when they were assessed for £400 towards the expenses of the forts and fortifications the Council had to take notice of their remissness, and an Order dated 17th April, 1597, directed Sir Anthony Paulet to send up the names of those persons who refused to pay.
"For these respects we do now more earnestly will and require you that ye shall make present payment of the same before mentioned unto Sir Anthony Paulet, Knight, to Her Majesty's use, and in case you shall make default we have given directions unto him to deliver into the hands of one of the messengers of Her Majesty's Chamber those who have been the cause of differment of payment that they may answer the dealing in that sort before us. And likewise when we are given to understand that there is a pier begun by voluntary contribution of some of the well affected inhabitants of the Isle which remaineth unfinished, for that many refuse to pay those small sums they them-selves promised. We think it very expedient that those parties should be called before you and some fit course be taken with them for so necessary work (so many ways beneficial to the inhabitants) should not be neglected, And that you should deal also with the rest of the inhabitants of that Isle to be content to contribute to perfect this necessary as Her Majesty hopeth to finish the work on hand already begun. And if you shall find any backwardness herein or in any other public service, or in any person, we have given special charge to your Governor to certify us of the names of any of those persons and the course they take."
Then we have a sidelight on the condition of those unfortunate sailors and others who had the misfortune to be taken prisoners of war, for when one John Guillaume was directed to pay the ransoms of some Jerseymen who were then serving in the galleys off the coast of Brittany, he, having difficulty in recovering the money as advanced from the Bailiff and Jurats, applied to    the Council for redress and on the 9th October, 1597, a sharp letter was sent from London in which Their Lordships ordered the Bailiff to " take speedy order for his satisfaction in regard it was for the general service of the Island and entered into the Government's request which if to their knowledge he hath so done they expect that you yeild him satisfaction according to equity."
Jerseymen were always careful of their money, and probably the unpopularity of Sir Anthony had something to do with the unsatisfactory state of affairs, for about this time the Jersey people appear to be always under the censure of the Council, and on the 11th July, 1597, we have a historical reference to the Causeway between the Island and the Castle on the Islet now called Elizabeth Castle.
The Council on that date reminded the States that two years previously they had recommended that the Causeway should be made as beneficial to the Islanders, as the Castle was being fortified at great expense to Her Majesty.
"Whereof we have just cause to mislike and find fault with you and therefore we doe once more again require you to have more care in that behalfe and better consideration of our saide letters, and especially to cause such moneys has hath been collected for that purpose to be employed in the making of the saide Causeway and let order it may be speedily finished, serving to be in necessary use and purpose, wherein if you should be found remiss or negligent we have required the Governor to certify as in whom the default shall be."
Thus the States were established in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The powers of the Jurats were curtailed and Constables and Rectors now became members of the Legislative Assembly. The Governor still retained his power to negative any measure he thought necessary.
Before 1591 the Jurats did as they liked and formed a small body mostly interested in safeguarding what they considered as their rights. They were appointed to look after the interests of the people as a whole, and in the reign of Henry VII it was found necessary to warn them of an Act passed " Whereas if any of the Jurats be hereafter found in fault and reprimanded for not exercising well and faithfully his office that he shall be expelled and put out of office and never be admitted therein, but be always taken and reputed as a person perjured and infamous."
Before 1591, Constables might be invited by the Jurats to give advice, but only advice which might or might not be acted upon, and sometimes to show their impartiality the Jurats called upon some person considered wise on the subject under discussion, but the Jurats were very careful in their selection, and the Jurats themselves were limited to the members of a very few leading families who were interested in retaining all powers within the little circle.
Sometimes they called upon the clergy " whose apparent sanctity of manners and superior knowledge and wisdom were in those days of ignorance held in the utmost veneration, but they were merely called upon to give advice and it rested in the breasts of the Jurats to call them or not as they pleased." The Constables and Rectors had no power to request a meeting of the States but must attend when called upon.
After 1591 attempts were made to ignore the Order of Council and do without Constables and Rectors but opinion was widening and young Jerseymen were returning home from time to time with new ideas as to how they should be governed and when the matter was reported to the Council it was decided that no ordinance should be proposed unless approved after the due consideration of the whole of the States.
Then we have an interesting sidelight in an Act of the States of the 15th November, 1596, dealing with those members who failed to attend to their duties, and it was decided that any member absent from a meeting of the States after being duly summoned shall be fined one Angelot for the benefit of the State, and that, in order to complete the number of members, Constables shall bring some discreet person in the place of foreign ministers of parishes.

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