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Courts of Jersey

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Courts of Jersey

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of

The Courts of Jersey are responsible for the administration of justice in the Bailiwick of Jersey, one of the Channel Islands. They apply the law of the Island, which is a mixture of customary law and legislation passed by the legislature, the States Assembly.

The principal court is the Royal Court, which has been in existence since the 13th century, and exercises both civil and criminal jurisdiction. Additional courts, such as the Magistrate's Court, which deals with minor criminal matters, and the Court of Appeal, which hears appeals from the Royal Court, have been added to the Island's legal system more recently. There are also a number of specialist tribunals.

Parish Hall Enquiry

The Parish Hall Enquiry is an informal way of dealing with minor criminal behaviour, particularly by young people, which has been in use in Jersey for over 800 years.[1]

The Enquiry is not actually a court hearing. It is an opportunity for the Centenier (the head of the Honorary Police for the parish) to review the evidence and decide whether it is in the public interest for the case to be tried in the Magistrate's Court.[2] In doing so the Centenier will discuss the evidence with the accused person and, if the offence is minor, possibly agree a non-statutory sanction which will avoid the need for the case to go to court. Attendance at the Enquiry is voluntary, the Centenier does not make a finding of guilt (a sanction is only imposed if the accused agrees, otherwise the case is sent on to the Magistrate's Court) and at any time the accused may elect to have the case referred to the Magistrate.[1][3]

Sanctions which can be imposed include:[1]

  • no further action/'words of advice'
  • a written caution
  • a fine of up to £100 for some offences, e.g. minor motoring offences
  • deferral of a sanction, dependant on good behaviour
  • voluntary supervision by the probation service

These sanctions are not convictions but a record is kept and they may be referred to in the event of the accused coming into contact with the criminal justice system on a subsequent occasion.[1]

The Parish Hall Enquiry system has been found to "deal successfully and appropriately with a wide range of offending", to have a low rate of recidivism, and a high level of satisfaction amongst victims.[4]

Lower courts

The Magistrate's and Petty Debts Courts were established by legislation in 1853 to deal with minor criminal and civil cases instead of the Royal Court (although their jurisdiction is generally concurrent with that of the Royal Court, rather than exclusive).[5] They are both presided over by the Magistrate, a position which was created as a distinct post in 1864. The Magistrate is referred to in the Jersey French of the legislation as the Juge d’Instruction,[6] although his role is not the same as the position with the same title in inquisitorial systems.

Magistrate's Court

Magistrate's Court in Saint Helier

Originally established in 1853 as the Police Court the Magistrate's Court, which was renamed in 1996, can try any criminal offence if the Magistrate considers that the appropriate sentence is not more than one year in prison or a fine of £5,000. If the Magistrate considers that a heavier sentence might be appropriate, then the case will be committed to the Royal Court for trial. Similarly if, having tried the case, the Magistrate subsequently decides that their sentencing powers are insufficient, they may refer the case to the Royal Court for sentencing.[7]

Petty Debts Court

The Petty Debts Court deals with civil cases where the value of the claim is no more than £10,000, and also with landlord and tenant disputes.[8][9]

Youth Court

The Youth Court was created in 1994 and is made up of the Magistrate and two members of the Youth Court Panel (which is appointed by the Superior Number of the Royal Court). It sits in private (although the press may be present) and deals with cases where the defendant is aged under 18, unless the likely sentence means that the case needs to be sent to the Royal Court.[10]

Royal Court

Royal Court building in Saint Helier

The Royal Court is the principal and oldest court in Jersey, and exercises both criminal and civil jurisdiction. It can sit in a number of configurations, depending on the type of case and the powers to be exercised.[11]


The Court has its origins in the 13th century when, following the English Crown's loss of the Duchy of Normandy, King John decreed that Jersey should continue to be subject to Norman customary law. The Royal Court exercised both judicial and legislative functions for the Island, although the power to make laws moved to the States Assembly in the 15th century.[12]


The Bailiff of Jersey is the President of the Royal Court (and also of the Court of Appeal). Individual trials may be heard before the Bailiff, the Deputy Bailiff (also a full-time role) or a Commissioner. Commissioners are part-time judges, appointed from the ranks of judges in the Commonwealth or senior experienced lawyers from the Channel Islands, United Kingdom or the Isle of Man, either for defined periods of time or for specific cases. The Master of the Royal Court deals with some preliminary matters in civil cases. The Court is supported by the Judicial Greffier who fulfils the role of Registrar.[11]

In addition to the judge, the Royal Court includes the Jurats. They are unpaid lay people, aged 40 or more, who have been elected by an electoral college. They hold the office until the age of 72.[13] The Jurats decide issues of fact in criminal and civil trials (except criminal assizes, when a jury is empanelled), hand down sentences in criminal trials and award damages in civil trials.[14]

Civil jurisdiction

Three divisions of the Court deal solely with civil matters. The Héritage division decides cases concerning land and immovable property. The Family division deals with divorce, adoption and the care of children. The Probate division is concerned with wills and inheritance.[11]

The Samedi division deals with all other civil cases coming before the Royal Court.[15] It previously sat on a Saturday, hence the name (Samedi is the French word for Saturday), but now sits on Fridays.[11]

When exercising civil jurisdiction, the Royal Court almost always sits as the Inferior Number – that is, comprising the Bailiff (or the Deputy Bailiff, or a Commissioner) and two Jurats.[16]

Criminal jurisdiction

As well as hearing civil cases, the Samedi division of the Royal Court also hears criminal cases. There are three ways in which a case can be tried: by the Inferior Number of the Royal Court, by an assize sitting or (for sentencing only) by the Superior Number.[17]

Interior of Royal Court looking from the public gallery
The Inferior Number of the Royal Court tries offences (termed 'contraventions') defined in statute law or (where the defendant agrees) offences against customary law. It also deals with bail applications. When sitting as the Inferior Number, the Court is made up of the Bailiff (or the Deputy Bailiff, or a Commissioner) and two Jurats. There is no jury, and the Jurats are the judges of fact.[18] The Inferior Number may hand down a sentence of up to four years imprisonment. If it believes that a heavier sentence is appropriate, it must refer the case to the Superior Number for sentencing.

The Inferior Number also hears appeals against decisions of the Magistrates' Court. There is generally no onward appeal.[19]

An assize sitting of the Royal Court is used when the defendant is charged with an offence (called 'crimes' for the more serious offences, and 'délits' for the less serious ones) against customary law. The case is tried by a judge (the Bailiff or Deputy or a Commissioner) and a jury of 12 citizens.[19]

The Superior Number of the Royal Court only has a role in respect of sentencing, either on reference or appeal from the Inferior Number. Unlike the Inferior Number, it can impose any sentence allowed by law, including imprisonment for more than four years. The Superior Number is made up of the judge and five or more Jurats.[19]

Visite Royale

HM Solicitor-General presents argument before the Royal Court, voyeurs and officials regarding whether the Parish of Saint Helier could remove dead trees at risk of falling into the roadway (2012)

A Visite Royale is an annual ambulatory inspection by the Royal Court of one of the Parishes of Jersey. Since 1803 the alternation of the Visites has been fixed so that each Parish is visited once every six years. The origin of the custom goes back to the jurisdiction of the Viscount over the roads and paths of the Duchy of Normandy. The Court inspects the Parish accounts (although since modern practice is that accounts are professionally audited, this is a formality) and receives a report on policing and other matters from the Connétable and Chef de Police. A panel of twelve voyeurs, made up of notable Parishioners nominated by the Connétable, is sworn in and leads the Court on a circuit of roads around the Parish, drawing the Court's attention along the way to transgressions and encroachments that require judgment. The jurisdiction of the Visite Royale is to make "any order designed to ensure the rights of the public lawfully to use the public roads and pathways of the Island without obstruction, hinderance or inconvenience."[20] Judgment is given on the spot, although this may be an order that further investigations should take place and be reported to the Royal Court at a later date.[21]

Appeal courts

Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, court 3 in Middlesex Guildhall, the UK Supreme Court Building in London
Prior to 1949 there was no Court of Appeal in Jersey (or bailiwicks.[22]

The Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal of Jersey was finally created in 1961 and sits about six times each year. The judges of the Court of Appeal comprise the Bailiff and Deputy Bailiff, and a number of Queen's Counsel from the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.[23][24] Currently, there are 11 judges of the Court of Appeal, including the Bailiff of Guernsey.[25]

Youth Appeal Court

The Youth Appeal Court is made up of the Bailiff and three members of the Youth Court Panel.[26]

Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

Further appeals can be made to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, but only with special leave.[27]


In the case of a sudden or unexpected death in the Island, an inquest will need to be held to determine the cause of death. The Viscount is the coroner (although in recent years this function has been delegated to the Deputy Viscount) and may sit with a jury, although this is unusual. Hearings take place in public.[28]


In addition to the courts, there are a number of Tribunals, including:

  • Jersey Employment Tribunal[29]
  • Commissioners of Appeal for Tax[30]
  • States of Jersey Complaints Board[31]
  • Health and Safety Appeal Tribunal[32]
  • Data Protection Tribunal[33]
  • Rent Control Tribunal[34]
  • Rate Appeal Board[35]
  • Social Security Tribunal[36]
  • Mental Health Review Tribunal[37]

Judgments and law reports

Judgments of the Royal Court, Court of Appeal and the Employment Tribunal are published online by the Jersey Legal Information Board,[38] as part of the Free Access to Law Movement. Since 1985, selected judgments containing points of legal principle are formally published in the Jersey Law Reports. Selected judgments between 1950 and 1984 were published in 11 volumes by the Royal Court in the Jersey Judgments series of law reports.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Parish Hall Enquiries". Jersey Courts. Retrieved February 2011. 
  2. ^ "Parish Hall Enquiries: Code on Decision to Prosecute". Jersey Honorary Police. January 2000. Retrieved February 2011. 
  3. ^ "Parish Hall Enquiries: Centeniers Guidance notes". Jersey Honorary Police. January 2000. Retrieved February 2011. 
  4. ^ Miles, Helen; Raynor, Peter (September 2005). "The conduct and effectiveness of Parish Hall Enquiries". Jersey Probation Service. pp. 15–17. Retrieved February 2011. 
  5. ^ "Loi Etablissant la Cour pour la Repression des Moindres Delits". Jersey Law. 1853. Retrieved February 2011. 
  6. ^ See "Loi (1864) concernant la charge de Juge d’Instruction". Jersey Law. Showing the law as at 1 January 2008. Retrieved February 2011.  and also "Draft Loi (No. 7) (201-) concernant la charge de Juge d’instruction". States of Jersey. 19 October 2010. Retrieved February 2011. 
  7. ^ "Jersey Law Course 2010-11: Criminal Procedure". Jersey Institute of Law. pp. 11–12. Retrieved February 2011. 
  8. ^ "Jersey Law Course 2010-11: Civil Procedure". Jersey Institute of Law. pp. 19–20. Retrieved February 2011. 
  9. ^ "Magistrate's and Youth Court". Jersey Courts. Retrieved February 2011. 
  10. ^ "Jersey Law Course 2010-11: Criminal Procedure". Jersey Institute of Law. p. 182. Retrieved February 2011. 
  11. ^ a b c d "The Royal Court". Jersey Courts. Retrieved February 2011. 
  12. ^ "Jersey's judicial system: the Royal Court". Jersey Heritage. Retrieved February 2011. 
  13. ^ "Royal Court (Jersey) Law 1948". Jersey Law. Showing the law at 1 January 2010. Retrieved March 2011. 
  14. ^ "Jurats". Jersey Courts. Retrieved March 2011. 
  15. ^ "Jersey Law Course 2010-11: Civil Procedure". Jersey Institute of Law. p. 18. Retrieved February 2011. 
  16. ^ "Jersey Law Course 2010-11: Civil Procedure". Jersey Institute of Law. p. 15. Retrieved February 2011. 
  17. ^ "Jersey Law Course 2010-11: Criminal Procedure". Jersey Institute of Law. p. 14. Retrieved February 2011. 
  18. ^ "Jersey Law Course 2010-11: Criminal Procedure". Jersey Institute of Law. pp. 14–15. Retrieved February 2011. 
  19. ^ a b c "Jersey Law Course 2010-11: Criminal Procedure". Jersey Institute of Law. p. 15. Retrieved February 2011. 
  20. ^ Bailhache, Philip (June 1998). "The Visite Royale And Other Humbler Visits". Jersey Law Review 2 (2). Retrieved 2 September 2012. 
  21. ^ See, for example, Representation of Transport and Technical Services regarding proposals on saving an oak tree following a Visite Royale dated 15 August 2012, 2013 JRC 024 (Inferior Number of the Royal Court 31 January 2013).
  22. ^ Sowden, Terry (2000). "The Origin Of The Jersey Court Of Appeal". Jersey Law Review. Retrieved February 2011. 
  23. ^ "Court of Appeal". Jersey Courts. Retrieved February 2011. 
  24. ^ "Jersey Law Course 2010-11: Civil Procedure". Jersey Institute of Law. p. 313. Retrieved February 2011. 
  25. ^ "Judiciary". Jersey Law. Retrieved February 2011. 
  26. ^ "Jersey Law Course 2010-11: Criminal Procedure". Jersey Institute of Law. p. 184. Retrieved February 2011. 
  27. ^ "Privy Council". Jersey Courts. Retrieved February 2011. 
  28. ^ "Coroner's functions". States of Jersey. 
  29. ^ "Jersey Employment Tribunal". Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  30. ^ "About the Commissioners of Appeal". States of Jersey. Retrieved 27 September 2015. 
  31. ^ "How to complain to the States of Jersey Complaints Board". States of Jersey. Retrieved 27 September 2014. 
  32. ^ "Health and Safety Appeal Tribunal". States of Jersey. Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  33. ^ "Data Protection Tribunal". Office of the Data Protection Commissioner. Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  34. ^ "Rent Control Tribunal". States of Jersey. Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  35. ^ "Form: Appeal to Rate Appeal Board". Retrieved 27 September 2014. 
  36. ^ "If you think a Social Security decision is wrong". States of Jersey. Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  37. ^ "Mental Health Law 1969". Jersey Law. Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  38. ^ "Jersey Law Reports". Jersey Law (Jersey Legal Information Board). Retrieved 3 August 2011. 

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