Constitution, Citizenship, Legal System

Constitution, Citizenship, Legal System

Jersey’s constitution and political system

The Bailiwick of Jersey is a self-governing Parliamentary Democracy. Jersey is autonomous in all domestic matters and has its own government, led by the Chief Minister, and its own legislature – the States Assembly.   Jersey has its own independent legal, administrative and fiscal systems.The Queen is the Head of State and the Lieutenant-Governor acts as Her Majesty’s personal representative in Jersey. The relationship between Jersey and the Crown is one that derives from the British sovereign’s capacity as heir to the Dukes of Normandy. By long-standing convention, the Crown, now represented by the UK Government, is generally responsible for Jersey’s defence and representing its international interests.  However, treaties may only extend to Jersey where the Government has given its express consent to be bound by any international commitments. Since the beginning of the 21st Century, Jersey has taken greater responsibility for asserting and promoting it separate international identity. 

Historical Background

Jersey’s constitution and political system, like those of other territories, are heavily influenced by its history so a brief understanding of the history of Jersey is helpful. It is certain that Jersey was part of the enlarged Kingdom of Brittany from 867.  In 933 the Channel Islands were annexed by the Duke of Normandy and for all practical purposes became part of the Duchy of Normandy. In 1066 William, Duke of Normandy, defeated King Harold of England at the Battle of Hastings thereby unifying the Duchy of Normandy and the Kingdom of England under one crown. In view of the loyalty of the Channel Islands and the Crown conferred several privileges and liberties on the Islands in a series of Royal Charters. 

The Royal Charters were granted by sixteen English (and subsequently British) Sovereigns from Edward III in 1341 to James II in 1687. The Charters granted various rights to islanders, including the right for the people of Jersey to be governed by their own laws and adjudicated on by their own courts, the right to export Jersey goods to England (and latterly Great Britain) free from import duties, and the general right to govern themselves in relation to matters of domestic concern. The Charter are an important source of Jersey’s constitutional rights, and so the Jersey Legal Information Board, with the assistance of the Attorney General, recently arranged for the text to be collated and for an authoritative translation from Latin into English to be published online:

The Royal Charters are a key part of the constitutional arrangements between Jersey and the Crown and are still of relevance today. The status of Jersey as a “Bailiwick” refers to the office of the Bailiff. The position of Bailiff was created after the Treaty of Paris 1259 where King Henry III of England agreed to give up his claim to the Duchy of Normandy, with the exception of the Channel Islands. The holder of that office presides over the Island’s unicameral legislature, the States Assembly. The Attorney General and the Solicitor General (offices dating back to the early 14th century) are, like the Bailiff, appointed by the Crown, and are non-political appointments.

The nature of the British Crown Dependencies

The limited prerogative powers of the Crown in Jersey, for example granting Royal Assent for Jersey Laws, are exercised on the advice of the sovereign’s Privy Council. At present the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice is the Privy Counsellor with responsibility for the Crown Dependencies. In consequence of this, the Ministry of Justice is responsible in the UK Government for managing the relationship with the Crown Dependencies and works closely with the Government of Jersey’s External Relations Department. The UK’s Ministry of Justice provides guidance to UK government departments on prior engagement requirements with authorities in each Crown Dependency.

The key point is that the Crown Dependencies are entirely self-governing in respect of their internal affairs, so they are free to have their own laws, education, health, policing, tax and other systems.  Indeed, they do so, and their systems diverge quite significantly in some respects from those of the UK.

International relations

The UK government has responsibility, on behalf of the Crown, for the defence and conduct of international relations on behalf of the Crown Dependencies. However, it is recognised that the Crown Dependencies have a distinct identity. Jersey’s  position was formally recognised in a 2007 document  agreed by the British and Jersey Governments  - Framework for developing the international identity of JerseyThe purpose of the document was “to clarify the constitutional relationship between the UK and Jersey, which works well and within which methods are evolving to help achieve the mutual interests of both the UK and Jersey”.  The three key provisions of the framework are – 

  • Jersey has an international identity which is different from that of the UK. 
  • The UK will not act internationally on behalf of Jersey without prior consultation. 
  • The UK recognises that the interests of Jersey may differ from those of the UK, and the UK will seek to represent any differing interests when acting in an international capacity. 

The British Government entered into similar arrangements with the Isle of Man and with Guernsey.

The British Government entered into similar arrangements with the Isle of Man and with Guernsey. Jersey and the other Crown dependencies can sign international treaties if they have been authorised by the British Government to do so – a process known as “entrustment”. When the UK signs any treaty, convention or agreement the general practice is for this to be on behalf of the UK and “any of the Crown Dependencies or Overseas Territories” that wish the treaty to apply. The UK Government duly consults Jersey at an early stage on its wishes in respect of any international agreement it might wish to extend to Jersey and as a matter of binding constitutional convention will only extend an international agreement to Jersey if it confirms that it wishes to have the agreement extended.


There is no separate “Jersey citizenship”. The UK Government is responsible for the laws covering British citizenship through the British Nationality Act 1981 (BNA), which applies to Jersey. This means that with a few exceptions people who were born in Jersey or whose parents were born in Jersey or the UK are automatically British citizens. People who are not British citizens can apply for citizenship on the same basis as people in the UK.

The passport office in Jersey can issue British passports to Jersey residents entitled to hold one.  People with a Jersey connection living in the UK can also obtain a British passport in the usual way but it will be a standard UK one.  The British passport issued in Jersey makes no reference to the UK on its front cover, has a different page design and is issued in the name of the Lieutenant Governor.  However, the rights of holders of passports issued in Jersey are identical to those of passports issued in the UK in respect of settling in the UK, meeting entry requirements in foreign counties and when the need arises receiving support from British Government consular services anywhere in the world.

Legislature and Government

General elections are held every four years.  The next General Election will take place on 22 June 2022.

The constituencies with effect from the 2022 election are –

Parish(es) No Deputies
St Helier South 4 deputies
St Helier Central 5 deputies
St Helier North 4 deputies
St Saviour 5 deputies
St Clement 4 deputies
St Brelade 4 deputies
St Mary, St Ouen & St Peter 4 deputies
St John, St Lawrence and Trinity 4 deputies
Grouville & St Martin 3 deputies

The Lieutenant Governor, Bailiff, Attorney General, Solicitor General and Dean of Jersey are technically members of the States Assembly with a right to speak but not vote.  In practice, the Bailiff speaks only as presiding officer and the Lieutenant Governor speaks only at the beginning and end of their term.

Following the General Election, the members elect a Chief Minister who in turn nominates other ministers who have to be approved by the States.   There is no distinction between the different categories of members is respect of being appointed a minister.   The ministers comprise the Council of Ministers, comparable to the British Cabinet.  The number of ministers and the portfolios can vary from time to time.  Currently the Council of Ministers comprises the Chief Minister and ministers for Economic Development, Sport and Culture; External Relations and Financial Services; International Development; Infrastructure; Social Security; Children and Education; Home Affairs; Treasury and Resources; Health and Social Services; Housing and Communities; and Environment.  The Ministers each appoint one or more Assembly members as Assistant Ministers. No more than 21 Members of the Assembly may be appointed as ministers or assistant ministers.

There is provision for political parties in Jersey under the Political Parties (Registration) (Jersey) Law 2008.  

With members having been elected individually there is no formal party system in the States Assembly, but all members have an opportunity to participate in the making of legislation and also in scrutinising the actions of government through a number of scrutiny panels.  The scrutiny panels are an important part of the checks and balances in the political system.  They comprise members not in the government, and the holding chair of such a panel is regarded as a significant role.  They have the power to initiate enquiries on particular subjects, to review legislation and to question ministers and officials as well as independent experts and those with a particular interest in a subject.  

Laws are made in Jersey in much the same way as in other places.   Most proposals for a law are made by the Government but individual members of the States Assembly are also able to propose a new law or an amendment to an existing law.   Prior to a law being drafted there may well have been an extensive period of preparation and public consultation and possibly consultation on a draft of the proposed law.  This is to ensure that the full implications of what is being proposed are assessed and understood.  The first formal stage is for the proposal to be lodged in the States Assembly.   It is at this stage that the full text of the proposed law is made public.  There are then a number of opportunities for it to be to be debated by the States Assembly and for amendments to be proposed and considered.  The States Assembly approves the final version, which is then submitted to the Ministry of Justice in the UK for formal approval by the Privy Council, which is normally done as a matter of course as the officials in Jersey ensure that there is nothing in the law that would conflict with the UK’s international obligations.  The law is then formally registered by the Royal Court in Jersey.  A new law does not normally come in to effect immediately, but rather on days either specified in the law or made under provisions in the law.  This is to give ample opportunity for any necessary new arrangements to be put into place and for those specifically affected by the law to have due notice of it.

The parishes

Jersey’s 12 parishes are a key feature of the political structure of the Island.  The parishes have existed in their current form for around 1000 years with only minimal boundary changes.  Each of the parishes has a parish church and parish hall (save for St. Martins which has a public hall) and the parishes are the centre of many sporting and other social activities.  The parishes also form the basis of constituencies for deputies.  Until the 2022 reforms all parishes have at least one deputy; the new constituencies are still parish-based, but most parishes will be combined with others in multi-member seats.  St Helier, as the largest parish in terms of population, will be divided into three districts.

The parishes were originally created so each had part of the coastline and they had broadly similar levels of population.  Now, the parishes range in size from the capital, St Helier, with around one third of the population to St Mary with under 2% of the population.

The parishes each have the same structure headed by the Connétable (Constable), who also is a member of States Assembly.   The Connétable is supported by two “Procureurs du Bien Public” who have responsibility for ensuring that the finances of the parish are soundly managed.  The parishes are divided into Vingtaines (or Cueillettes in St Ouen), each with two vingteniers, two roads inspectors and three constable’s officers.  The Connétable heads the honorary police comprising also centeniers, vingteniers and constable’s officers.

A traditional event in each of the parishes is the biannual “Visite du Branchage”, by which the roads inspectors inspect roads and lanes to check that overgrown hedges are not causing problems for pedestrians and road users.   Each year, two parishes are visited by the Royal Court – the “Visite Royale” – to check on the roads and hedges and also to inspect the accounts and receive reports from parish officials.

All ratepayers and electors are entitled to attend parish assemblies which elect the various officers – although not the Connétable who is elected by secret ballot in the same way as other States members, set the annual domestic rate and have other functions in relation to roads, licensing and contracts. A key feature of the parish system is that all the officers serve in an honorary capacity – although the constables are paid in their capacity as States Assembly members.

Lieutenant Governor

The Queen’s representative in Jersey is the Lieutenant Governor, appointed by the Queen for a five-year term, to be her personal representative and impartial adviser.  The Lieutenant-Governor’s responsibilities include: representing the Queen on ceremonial occasions; hosting royal, ambassadorial and VIP visits and occasions in conjunction with the Island’s authorities and the UK government; promoting and playing an active part in the social and charitable affairs of the Island; all matters relating to British citizenship; and making recommendations for the award of honours to Jersey residents.

Bailiff and Law Officers

Jersey is technically described as a “bailiwick” after the Bailiff, the person who in medieval times was the local political head of the Island.  The Bailiff is appointed by the Crown although on the advice of the Jersey Government and is always a “local” person.  He or she will invariably have held other law officer positions.  The Bailiff is the civic head of the Island, as distinct from the political head, and has some formal responsibilities in respect of communications between the Jersey and UK Governments. He carries out a number of civic responsibilities and engagements. He is Presiding Officer of the States Assembly, akin to a speaker in the UK Parliament. He is responsible for the orderly conduct of the States Assembly and its business. As Presiding Officer, he has the right of speech – which is mainly exercised for ensuring the orderly conduct of the proceedings – but he cannot vote. The Bailiff also has another important role in Jersey. He is President of the Royal Court and presides over cases. The Bailiff is supported by a Deputy Bailiff or Chief Justice.   The Attorney General and Solicitor General provide legal advice to the Government and provide an independent public prosecution service. These three officers are appointed by the Crown on the advice of the Jersey Government.

Jersey’s population

Long-term trends

The earliest estimates of the population of Jersey come from historians and inevitably have a significant margin of error.  Human occupation of Jersey first occurred during glacial times, with the earliest reliable dated human occupation going back around 250,000 years.  It has been estimated that between 4000 and 3000 BC the population was between 2,000 and 4,000, based on between 10 and 20 separate communities each with a population of between 200 and 250. The population then seems to have declined to about 500 in 2000 BC. There are then no estimates until 1050 when using the churches as a reference point suggests a population of around 6,000.  The first substantive “census” in Jersey was the 1331 Extente, sometimes referred to as the Jersey Domesday Book.  This suggests that there were around 2,000 houses in the Island, which implies a population figure of 10,000-12,000.  The Black Death in 1348/49 had a devasting effect and by the early 15th Century the population may have fallen to 4,000-5,000.   Subsequent estimates suggest a population of 7,000 in 1541, 16,200 in 1685 and 20,000 in 1788.The first formal census was conducted in 1821 and subsequently censuses have taken place every ten years, and for a period every five years, with the exception of 1941 Population growth in recent years has been driven primarily by net immigration rather than by natural growth, the excess of births over deaths.  Statistics Jersey publishes annual estimates of population change, split between natural growth and net migration. 

The first of the 2022 census bulletins are below:

Bulletin 1 – Population Characteristics

Bulletin 2 – Households and house

Bulletin 3 – Health Characteristics

Jersey’s legal system

Jersey has its own legal system, embracing aspects of Norman law and structures, a fairly standard approach to drafting laws and a court system which has some similarity to that of England but also its own characteristics, in particular a Royal Court and the use of jurats rather than juries.

How laws are made

In respect of new legislation Jersey is little different from most other jurisdictions. The States Assembly, the legislatures, has responsibility for enacting legislation.   Most legislation is introduced by the Government and prior to the formal legislative process there would typically be a period of analysis and consultation.  When this has been concluded a draft law, known as a Projet de Loi, is tabled in the States Assembly.  However, it is open to any member of the States Assembly to table a Projet de Loi.

The process then is similar to that in other legislatures with the legislation being debated at least twice, amendments being proposed, considered and voted on, and ultimately the States Assembly approving what is known in Jersey as a “Law”, as opposed to the term “Act” which is used in the UK.

The law is then submitted to the Ministry of Justice in the United Kingdom which has a responsibility to ensure that legislation by the Crown Dependencies does not conflict with any of the UK’s treaty and other obligations. In practice, the Law Officers in Jersey ensure that there will not be any such problems. When the Ministry of Justice is content then the law is approved by a committee of the Privy Council and returned to Jersey where it is formally registered by the Royal Court. It is only at this stage that the law comes into effect.

The Bailiff and the Law Officers

Jersey has a Bailiff, Deputy Bailiff and two Law Officers, the Attorney General and the Solicitor General. 

The head of the legal profession is the Bailiff, who is also the civic head of the Island, the President of the States Assembly, in practice performing the role of speaker, and Deputy Governor in the absence of the Lieutenant Governor.  The responsibilities of the Bailiff include -

  • Head of the judiciary of Jersey.
  • President of the Royal Court.
  • President of the Court of Appeal
  • Member of the Court of Appeal of Guernsey.
  • President of the Assembly of Bailiff, Governor and Jurats, responsible for regulating the sale of alcohol among other duties.
  • Making various judiciary-related appointments -
    • Lieutenant bailiffs (usually jurats) and commissioners, any of whom may preside over the Royal Court and exercise other judicial functions of the bailiff as required.
    • the magistrate, assistant magistrate and relief magistrates.
    • approves the appointment by the Attorney General of Crown Advocates
    • the Viscount, the executive officer of the Royal Council

The Deputy Bailiff deputises for the Bailiff as necessary on all matters and has a specific function of being the President of the Board of Examiners for the Jersey law examinations. 

The Attorney General and the Solicitor General head the Law Officers’ Department which has nine functions – 

  • Providing legal advice to the Crown, States Members and others.  This work includes preparing reports for the Privy Council on new legislation submitted to it by the States Assembly, liaising with the Ministry of Justice on UK legislation which may be extended to the Island, and examining international agreements to determine their relevance to Jersey.
  • Providing a public prosecution service for the Island.
  • Protecting the interests of the Crown and the Government in civil proceedings. 
  • Performing the functions and duties of the Attorney General.  This work includes –
  • Duties which arise as a result of the Attorney General being the Head of the Honorary Police.
  • Approving draft and amended constitutions and protecting the interests of charities in the Royal Court. 
  • Representing the Island in international and inter-insular tribunals, courts and other meetings such as those with the Home Office and Guernsey and the Isle of Man. 
  • Assisting overseas law enforcement agencies. 
  • Carrying out conveyancing work for the Crown and Government of Jersey.

The court system

Jersey has a magistrate’s court which operates in a similar way to its English counterparts but without Lay Magistrates, dealing with most criminal matters and with limited sentencing powers.  It refers cases upwards in appropriate circumstances.  Magistrates are legally trained unlike JPs in England.  

In addition to the magistrate’s court a youth court, which has similar powers to the magistrate’s court, deals exclusively with defendants under the age of 18. A petty debts court deals with civil matters below £30,000 as well as landlord and tenant issues. 

The principal court in Jersey is the Royal Court, which hears appeals from the lower courts and is a court of first instance for many issues. It can be regarded as equivalent to the English crown courts for criminal matters and the High Court for civil matters. There are four divisions of the court –

  • Héritage, which deals with immovable property issues.
  • Family, which deals with divorce proceedings and matters relating to children.
  • Probate, which handles the administration of estates.
  • Samedi, which deals with everything else.  Samedi comes from the French word for Saturday, which is when the court used to sit. The name has been retained although the court now sits on Fridays, dealing with public business in the mornings and private business in the afternoons. 

The Bailiff often presides over cases in the Royal Court. There is also provision for commissioners to be appointed as judges for a specific period or to deal with a specific case. This is to ensure that there is always adequate capacity in the Royal Court to deal with cases. 

A distinguishing feature of the current system in Jersey is the use of jurats rather than juries. The jurats are layman and are selected to hold that position generally because of the record they have in public service.  Jurats are elected by an electoral college comprising members of the States Assembly and the legal profession.  Candidates must be over 40 and once elected can serve until they are 72. There are at any one time 12 jurats.  For most cases the Bailiff or the Deputy Bailiff sits with two jurats, the Bailiff or Deputy Bailiff deciding issues of law and the Jurats deciding issues of fact. This is known as the “inferior number”.  Where a criminal case carries a sentence for longer than four years then five jurats sit, this being known as the “superior number”. For the most serious non-statutory criminal offences (e.g. murder or rape) trial by Jury is available.

A Court of Appeal hears appeals from all Royal Court divisions. It meets six times a year.  It comprises the Bailiff, the Deputy Bailiff and a number of senior lawyers from the UK.  There is also provision for matters of law to be referred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, although this is unusual.

Parish Hall enquiries

Parish Hall enquiries are a distinguishing feature of the Jersey legal system.  They date back over 800 years and reflect the historic importance of parishes and customary law. Basically, a parish hall inquiry is the process of preliminary investigation conducted by a centenier (an honorary police officer) to decide whether to submit the matter to the court system, or whether more informal action is appropriate. Most cases are initiated by the police but others able to refer cases are certain government officials, headteachers and indeed members of the public. The hearings are in private and do not constitute a court of law.  

The powers of the centenier are to –

  • Give a written caution, advice or even take no action, and there can be an element of restorative justice for example a letter of apology or compensation.
  • Defer a decision, generally in conjunction with other conditions such as writing a letter of apology.
  • Impose a fine of up to £200 for certain statutory offences.
  • Place young offenders under voluntary supervision orders.
  • Bring a formal charge for a court appearance before the magistrate.

The Jersey Legal Information Board

The Jersey Information Legal Board is a relatively recent but important component of the legal structure in Jersey.  It is chaired by the Bailiff, the other members representing parts of Government and the legal profession.  Its strategy is - 

  • To make the Laws of Jersey and Jersey's legal processes more accessible.
  • To promote the better co-ordination of Jersey’s justice system.
  • To support Jersey's position as a leading business centre.

It provides a comprehensive online library of current legislation (most importantly, unofficial consolidated versions of laws), court judgments and legal books and texts.