States of Jersey

“Jersey’s Norman Heritage

The Assembly of the States of Jersey is one of the oldest legislatures of the English speaking world. It formally came into existence in 1524 when minutes of meetings began to be kept, but its origins were much earlier. In 933 Jersey, with the other Channel Islands, was annexed by the Duke of Normandy. In 1066 William, Duke of Normandy, defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings and was crowned king of England and, as a result, from 1066 to 1204, England, Normandy and the Channel Islands were united under one rule – that of the King of England, who was also the Duke of Normandy. England and Normandy continued, however, to be administered separately from London and Rouen 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 of England 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 separated. 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. 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 the establishment of its separate administration, Jersey remained a distant outpost of the Crown. Several unsuccessful attempts were made by the French to conquer the Islanders, who, no doubt appreciative of their special status, and continuing to regard the King of England as their Duke, remained nonetheless loyal to the Crown. For their part, successive monarchs conferred many privileges and franchises by Royal Charter which continue 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 government, military, civil and judicial duties, and it is possible that as early as 1235 there was a Bailiff for Jersey and another for Guernsey. By the middle of the 14th century the Bailiff was appointed directly by the King.

The development of the States Assembly

Originally the Royal Court was 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 Connétables and the Rectors, before petitioning the Privy Council. From this process of consultation eventually emerged a legislative assembly made up of the Jurats, Connétables and Rectors (the 3 ‘Etats’ or 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 the 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, 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 that henceforth only the States Assembly should have legislative power. The Assembly remained composed of the Jurats, Connétables and Rectors. In 1856 a Laws passed which provided for the elections of 14 Deputies. 3 from St. Helier and one from each of the other Parishes. Following the Liberation of the Island from enemy occupation in 1945, and the report of a distinguished Privy Council Committee, 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 Church continued to be represented by the Dean of Jersey, although this position no longer carried a vote. 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.

Official languages

The 2 official languages of the States are English and French, and members may address the Assembly in either language. In practice the vast majority of the business of the States is now conducted in English.

Ministerial system of government and Official Report

The States of Jersey introduced a Ministerial system of government at the end of 2005 and also (with effect from 1st January 2006) an Official Report. Since that time the text of all 5 Scrutiny Panels and certain of the Public Accounts Committee hearings, and also the text of the majority of States proceedings, have been transcribed and uploaded to the Assembly website, The States Assembly meets on alternate Tuesdays throughout the year for an average of some 40 to 45 days per year. Following a tendering process, the States of Jersey works with an outside partner for the provision of its Official Report transcription services. The final editing and checking of the Official Report is undertaken by staff in the States Greffe (the parliamentary secretariat).”

Mark Egan
Contact Details
Mark Egan
Greffier of the States (Clerk)
States Greffe Morier House
St. Helier
Channel Islands
Tel:+44(0)1534 502020
Fax:+44(0)1534 502098
Email: [email protected]