Constitution & citizenship

Constitution et citouoyenneté

Constitutional Status and Terminology

It is widely understood that Jersey is a ‘Crown Dependency’ but confusion exists about what exactly that means. The Island is not a fully-sovereign country, but has a significant degree of autonomy going back to 1204 and affirmed in a line of Court cases still studied by lawyers qualifying to practise Jersey law. Among the islands of Europe only Malta and Iceland as sovereign states have more autonomy. Jersey looks to the UK for defence, and the majority of Islanders travel on British passports as British citizens like the Scots and Welsh, but unlike those other nations of the British Isles it is not part of the UK, as passports issued in Jersey make clear.

Most Islanders know that Jersey has its own parliament, government, ministers, legal system, judiciary, taxes, language, international UN country-code, credit rating and bank notes. However, outside the Island most people are unaware of these national attributes, so that it is commonly assumed Jersey is part of the UK, an error the Government of Jersey could do more to correct. Even within the island there is a tendency to use the word ‘local’ to describe Jersey and ‘national’ to refer to the UK. Furthermore, while at pains to point out the huge contribution made by English civil servants, several Board members and interviewees lamented what was frequently termed the ‘creeping Anglicisation’ of Jersey’s governmental institutions, a tendency to model processes and policy-making on Westminster and Whitehall (or even English local government), and to import senior functionaries rather than to develop our own.

The Board concluded that Jersey is accurately described as a ‘Country’, or even as a ‘Small Island Nation’, and as such has a distinct international character. This has been agreed with the UK and by constitutional experts, and in 2007 the Lord Chancellor and Chief Minister signed an agreement entitled ‘Framework for developing the international identity of Jersey’, which also acknowledges that Jersey’s ‘international identity’ is different from that of the UK. However, legally-speaking the term ‘identity’ has no defined meaning; the appropriate term for a country is ‘personality’, and this report adopts that usage throughout when describing how we are viewed internationally.

This is not a move towards independence for Jersey. Our nationality is definitely British. But just as Scotland and Wales are most definitely nations while the Scots and the Welsh remain British nationals, using the language of international personality and nationhood to describe Jersey could bring significant benefits. These include a stronger and more confident sense of identity, greater clarity in our international engagements, a stronger voice for the Island’s interests in international negotiations like Brexit, and higher levels of social and civic engagement. Other non-sovereign jurisdictions such as the Isle of Man and Bermuda already use this terminolgy, with National Galleries and National Museums. The Board came up with examples where this could be applied in Jersey, including describing Liberation Day as a National Day and the States of Jersey as our National Assembly. It also suggested that an official Jersey Constitutional Language Guide could help people use the correct terminology.

Civic Engagement and Citizenship

People in Jersey are actively engaged in helping each other. There are more than 500 voluntary and community organisations active in Jersey, and 11,000 islanders volunteer their time. The recent Covid emergency saw an overwhelming response from Islanders keen to assist those in need. The OECD’s Better Life Index places us in the top 10 of out of over 400 OECD regions in the category of ‘Community’. However, voter turnout in elections is extremely low, and few people understand themselves as ‘citizens’ of Jersey, with the commitment, responsibility and pride that this word can imply.

Citizenship is an issue distinct from nationality, and is it not exclusive. An individual in Jersey may legitimately identify themselves as a British citizen, a Jersey citizen and a Polish national all at the same time. The Board proposes that to call oneself a Citizen of Jersey should come to mean something; the word ‘Resident’ is insufficient and implies a temporary arrangement (people ‘reside’ in care homes). Nurturing the concept of Jersey citizenship through official communications, education at school (and for newcomers to the Island) and citizenship ceremonies can instil a common sense of belonging and participation. It can equip Islanders to act as informed Ambassadors for Jersey abroad (see International). Additionally, educating school children and the general public about the political system in Jersey and the work of the States Assembly could increase voter turnout and involvement in public life.