The Court of Chief Pleas of Guernsey Channel Islands
One of the most Ancient Feudal Courts in the world !
The Court of Chief Pleas
The Court of Chief Pleas is an ancient Court and is constituted in the same way as a
Full Court. Nowadays it will typically sit only once per year. It is attended by the Full Court, the Law Officers
of the Crown, Advocates and the Seigneurs and Bordiers owing suit to the Court.
In recent times it has become a Court dealing largely with ceremonial matters and
sits at the start of the Legal Year. Speeches are made by the Bailiff and H.M. Procureur. The Court of Chief Pleas
is held annually after Michaelmas and consists of the Bailiff sitting with a full Bench of sixteen Jurats. The
official ceremony is usually held on the first monday in October. The day starts at about 930AM with the sitting of
the Court with Full Dress of Robes, Uniforms, and Toques.
This Court is usually attended by His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor. It is at
this Court that a full roll call is made of all members of the Guernsey Bar, together with Parish Constables and
Seigneurs. The business of this Court, other than the roll call, mainly comprises of the following:-
Report regarding Charitable Funds administered by the Royal Court
Report of Commissioner regarding Interception of Communications
Report/recommendations for the renewal of Salle Publique Licences
Report/recommendations for the renewal of Explosives Licences
Constables' reports regarding the state of quarries within their
Constables' reports regarding the state of the streams and water courses
within their Parishes
The opportunity may also be taken to admit to the Guernsey Bar qualified
The Court is followed by a Service at the Town Church to mark the start of the legal
year and in the evening a traditional dinner is held, hosted by Her Majesty's Receiver General for Members of the
Royal Court, Officers of the Court, Senior Constables and Seigneurs
Sometimes the dinner is held at the Old Government House in St. Peter
All of these proceedings are controlled by the Law Officers of
The Crown. www.gov.gg
of Guernsey is a
British Crown Dependency in the English Channel off the coast of France. In addition to the island of Guernsey
itself, it also includes Alderney, Sark, Herm,
Jéthou, Brecqhou, Burhou and other small islands. With Jersey, they
form thearchipelago known as the Channel Islands.
During the migration of the Bretons to
theArmorica in thesixth century, they occupied the Channel Islands (then called Lenur
Islands)which were on their road. At that
time, Guernsey was called Lesia. It
was part of the kingdom of Brittany in theninth century, but was subject to Viking incursions from that time. In the year 933, the King of
France gave the Avranchin and the Cotentin (on which Lesia/Guernsey depended) to the Duke of
Normandy Guillaume Longue-Epée, at load for him to conquer them.
THE island of Guernsey and the other Channel Islands represent
the last vestiges of the medieval Duchy of Normandy, divided since 1204 between theEngland and France. That year, the King of France Philip
Augustus conquered mainland Normandy, the King of England John without Earth retaining the Channel Islands. Despite numerous
French attempts, Guernsey and its neighbors remained under the scepter of the King of England, reigning here
under the title of "Duke of Normandy".
These islands were the only dependent territories of
the British crown occupied by Germany during the Second World War and were the scene of Operation
The States of Guernsey, officially referred to as the "States of Deliberation",
consist of 59 members, 45 of whom are MPs, elected by districts with one or more members every 4 years, and 10
are parish treasurers representing the parish authorities. There are 2 representatives of Alderney and Sark, which are
self-governing dependencies of the bailiwick. There are also 2 non-voting members - the Attorney General and the
Advocate General, both appointed by the Sovereign. Laws passed by states are called 'Ordinances'.
Government of Guernsey
Since 2004 there has been a system of ministerial government. The legal system is
derived from Norman and English laws.
Without any political or judicial power for several
decades, guernsey's feudal system has been maintained until our days. There are
officially 75 fiefdoms, headed by a "lord", or a "lady". The British Crown in the person of the Duke of
Normandy, Queen Elizabeth II actually owns 29 of her fiefs, most of which belonged to abbeys or lower Norman
priories, before the sixteenthcentury. In fact, in 2004, there were 24 private lords totaling 46 lordships inherited from this
feudal system, with the exception that two of these 46 lordships are in joint ownership between several
owners. These fiefdoms belong to very old local lineages that have given many officers, bailiffs, jurats and
lawyers. These few families reunite in their hands, following endogamous marriages, several of the small
rural fiefdoms, resulting from the partitions made during history, according to the precepts of Norman
customary law, still in force.
As in England and according to a centuries-old system, fiefs can be sold by lords to
other individuals. Each lord is bound, according to custom, to make faith and homage to the Duke or his
representative. This tribute is sometimes staged during the Queen's state visits to the Channel Islands.
Unlike the lord of Sark, the Gueurnesiais lords
retained only feudal rights, but lost all their proper seigneurial rights since the nineteenthcentury and in the following. The lords played a social role until the first half
of the twentiethcentury. The feudal courts have also practically disappeared, with the exception of the courts of
the fief Le Comte (Lenfestey family) or the fief of Blanchelande (to the bailiff of
Guernsey, ex officio,in Saint-Martin). The seneschal of a
fief, and his officers were usually chosen from among the inhabitants of the fief, as required by feudal
customs. In the example of the fief of Blanchelande, which once belonged to a priory of the
old Blanchelande Abbey (in Neufmesnil, France, Manche), the court of the
fief still consists today of the seneschal, four vavasseurs, and the officers who are the clerk and his clerk, the provost, a sergeant and a
granary. In the fiefs, this court was held either in a special room or room of the pleas, or on a stone bench
located on a main axis of the lordship. Some of these benches have been preserved.
The Feudal Duees Law Act of 1980 definitively extinguished the private
nature of the remaining seigneurial royalties by transferring them to the Crown. In 2002, a supplementary law
provided for the abolition in 2003 of the right of "thirteenth" (transfer duty) for the benefit of private lords,
because of the exemption enjoyed by farms held in fiefs and francs fiefs (seigneuries). This tax now goes to the
The lords and ladies of the most important Guernsey
fiefdoms traditionally sit on the Court of Chief Pleas,with the
lawyers practising on the island and the elected constables of the parishes, during its solemn sittings "in body"
court) three times a year. To sit, lords and ladies must
have rendering tribute from their fief to the Crown or its
representative, the Lieutenant Governor of Guernsey. However, even if the presence of the lords and ladies is
obligatory at these three sessions, they no longer opine in the debate but only respond to their name. This survival
indicates, however, that the Guernsey lordships have retained their moral and legal
Became owners of several seigneuries (in
English: manors),a certain number of stately dwellings have been converted
into hotel luxury (Hotel de La Barbarie, for the fief of
Blanchelande, or the manor from Longueville to Saint-Sauveur),
or all simply sold, which is permitted under customary
law. Some lords have maintained the estate rich in rare botanical essences, and open it to the visit, such as
the manor ofSausmarez (Sausmarez
Manor). It still belongs to
the family of Sausmarez, one of the oldest on the island with that of Carteret.
One situation Similar exists in Jersey.
Justice is administered by the Court of Chief Pleas,
which is composed of professionalmagistratesfor its ordinary
sittings. around of the Bailiff and the jurats, and of the bodies
constituted for its three annual "in body" sessions (including hereditary lords and ladies, and the elected
constables of the parishes).
The Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey and the Isle of
Man are considered by the Council of theEurope (by the Treaty Office and its legal services) as
territories for whose international relations the United Kingdom is responsible. These territories do not have
the international legal personality that would allow them to be parties to Council of Europe treaties. On the
other hand, where the United Kingdom is a party to a Council of Europe treaty, it may (in agreement with the
territories concerned) declare that that treaty applies (or not) to those territories.
The absence of legal personality does not mean,
however, that they are assimilated to the United Kingdom, whose State was formed by the Union of the former
Kingdoms of England and Scotland and the Duchy of the Country of Wales). But historically, the Duchy of Normandy
has never formally ceased to exist as a state (which has become independent of the Kingdom of France) even
though it only remained thereafter on its last island lands.
Although previously grouped under the name "BritishIsles" (British Isles,not
to be confused with British Islands),the bailiwicks gained greater autonomy
with the creation of states like here in Guernsey, independent of the States of Jersey.
The question therefore arises today about the recognition of the bailiwicks of the
Crown as a State, even without legal personality at the international level (which seems to no longer be the case
since the creation of the "States of Jersey", "the States of Guernsey" and "those of Man" (note the plural), and
the ongoing modernization of old medieval legislation.