History of the States Assembly
Although most States' business is carried out in English, members can also address the Assembly in French. French and English are the official languages of the States.
Our Norman roots
The story of how our States Assembly was formed dates back to 933 when the Channel Islands became part of the Duchy of Normandy. In 1066 William, Duke of Normandy, defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings and was crowned King of England; and England, Normandy and the Channel Islands were thereby united under his rule.
However, the Channel Islands remained part of Normandy, subject to Norman Customary Law and local customary rules.
How Jersey started to govern itself
In 1204 the King of England lost mainland Normandy to King Philippe Auguste of France. However, the King kept the Channel Islands and allowed them to govern themselves under a Bailiwick system. He issued “The Constitutions of King John” saying Islanders could elect their 12 best men. These 12 'Jurats', along with the Bailiff, formed the Royal Court which determined all civil and criminal causes except prosecutions for treason.
Over the following centuries, Islanders built defences like Mont Orgueil and Elizabeth Castle to protect themselves against French invaders. Despite attacks, Jersey remained loyal to the Crown and earned many privileges as a result.
The King created an official appointment, the Warden, later to be known as the Governor. This Warden couldn’t perform his government, military, civil and judicial duties alone so, in 1235, he appointed a Bailiff for Jersey and Guernsey. By the middle of the 14th century the Bailiff was appointed directly by the King.
How the States Assembly was formed
Originally the Royal Court was a law enforcing and lawmaking body. Changes to the law were by an Order made by the Privy Council following a petition from the Royal Court.
In time, the Royal Court consulted the Connétables and Rectors from the 12 Parishes before petitioning the Privy Council.
A legislative assembly was thereby formed, made up of the Bailiff and the three 'Etats' or estates:
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 meetings of the States started in 1524, but they were mixed in with the records of the Royal Court. In 1603, the Governor, Sir Walter Raleigh arranged for the the minutes to be recorded separately.
The Royal Court continued to have legislative functions until 1771 when an Order in Council declared that only the States Assembly should have legislative power. The Assembly remained composed of the Jurats, Connétables and Rectors. Find out more about the Corn Riots and the Code of 1771 here.
In 1856 a Law was introduced for the election of 14 Deputies, 3 from St Helier and 1 from each of the other Parishes.
In 1948, the islands, now liberated from enemy occupation, saw a significant constitutional change:
- Rectors and 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
- Jurats remained Members of the Royal Court but no longer had legislative functions
The official languages of the States are English and French. Members may address the Assembly in either language; however most States business is done in English.