REVOLUTION was in the air in the1760s.
All the Western Empires were creaking following the latest European war and old values were being tested. Religion, politics, scientific knowledge and the social order were all being subjected to examination and reform.
Even in little Jersey, there were brave people prepared to put their lives at risk in order to challenge the established order. Then, all economic, social, political and religious life in Jersey was dominated by the all - powerful Royal Court. This was a wholly corrupted body dominated by the Bailiff, and a dozen each of Jurats, Parish Constables and Rectors.
The same few privileged families controlled almost everything and the island was divided up into hundreds of feudal fiefs which had to pay rentes to the seigniorial overlords. Most of the Island’s 22,000 or so population lived in precarious poverty.
Then, as now, the Crown Appointed Officers, reigned supreme. The office of Bailiff had degenerated into a hereditary sinecure of the UK based De Carteret family, who hardly ever even visited Jersey. In their place, over three centuries, substitute Lieutenant Bailiffs were appointed.
During much of the 18th century, it was the Lempriere family and their cronies who dominated the Royal Court, the government and so much of Jersey economic and social life. It was against this group that the poorer people of Jersey rose up and rebelled on 28 September 1769 – but there is no memorial built to their memory.
Officially, these brave people did not exist. The record of their rebellion was even erased from the contemporary Royal Court ledger. Then as now, dissent against the “Crown Officers” was treated as some sort of treason or sedition. The oppressive Lemprieres dismissed the dissenters as “some factions of jealous persons of a spirit of disrespect in some of the lower classes towards their superiors.”
The Lemprieres planned to hang as many as possible or to deport even more of the rebels, appealing to the King in London to send over troops together with authority to suppress the troublemakers.
In fact, the London government did not give the Lemprieres the authority sought and nobody was hanged or deported. Instead, the brave Island rebels drew up petitions expressing their many grievances and these were sent to London.
As was so often the case, the London government protected the inhabitants of Jersey against the worst oppressions of the local tyrants. It was the ancient responsibility of the London Parliament for the good government of Jersey – even though there were no elected representatives from Jersey in Parliament.
The immediate outcome was that some of the abusive powers were taken away from the Royal Court and more authority was confirmed for the States of Jersey.
It was the start of a more democratic government in Jersey although very short of what the dissenters actually wanted.
In addition, a “Code of Laws “ was agreed and published by authority of the Privy Council in 1771 which was an attempt at providing a clear statement of the laws that applied in Jersey.
The Code was totally inadequate (to this day, clear commentaries on the obscure laws of Jersey are still needed), but it was very significant in the 18th century.
Following this mini- revolution, Philip Lempriere H.M. Attorney “resigned” and left the Island. A new H.M. Lieutenant-Governor was appointed following representations in London against the local oppressors.
The suggestion that Jersey people have enjoyed a democratic paradise since 1204 is just nonsense.
The true history of Jersey has not been recorded or written.
Islanders and the outside-world audience have been fed an official Pro-Royalist ( PR) diet of misinformation for centuries. The current Inquiry (under Lord Carswell’s chairmanship) into the Roles of The Crown Officers has brought out the queues of apologists for an official version of history and preservation of the status quo.
A legion of lawyers, Jurats, Honorary Parish officers, politicians past and present (and even H.M. Dean) has presented a parrot-like recitation of wonderment in support of seven centuries of supposedly enlightened government, administrative excellence and judicial brilliance. Historically supported fact or evidence is noticeably absent from their written or oral contributions to the Inquiry Panel of five persons (unimaginatively composed of three lawyers, a Jersey lawyer’s wife and a nurse).
Most of all, it has been the Crown Officers themselves, the Bailiffs, Deputy Bailiffs, Attorneys and Solicitors General who have felt the greatest need to sing their own praises, protect their own interests and resist any notions of reform or change.
Thus, the same 18th century style of Crown Officers’ resistance against reform continues to this day.
Deputy Bob Hill’s successful call for an examination of the Role of the Crown Officers is just a continuation of the same call for reform that inspired the events of 28 September 1769. It is the voice of the people against oppressive or undemocratic institutions.
Now in 2010, it has been all hands to the pump trying to maintain the Crown Officers’ ship afloat. Even the Crown Officers from Guernsey have been encouraged to give support in an effort to keep the progressive standards of the twenty-first century, at bay.
There seems to be a desperate but concerted attempt to hang on to perverse powers that their Channel Islands ancestors enjoyed over past centuries.
Jersey’s 1769 mini-revolution pre-dated the American 1775 break with Britain. Yet, when the American colonists’ French allies mounted an expedition against Jersey’s “nest of pirates” on 6 January 1781, Charles Lempriere, the outrageous Lieutenant-Bailiff, was finally forced to resign from office. His slightly less unpleasant son was appointed in his place and H.M. Lieutenant-Governor Corbett (Charles Lempriere’s father-in-law) was court-martialled and dismissed, for failing to adequately defend the colonial outpost.
As always, such disciplinary decisions were made in London because the Island never had an adequate administration, or the powers, to deal with such matters.
It was the Channel Islands’ role as bases for smugglers, privateers and pirates that attracted so much critical attention in the 18th century - as does the finance centre business today.
Then, the likes of Philip and Clement Bailhache were the Island commanders of tiny vessels such as the “Resolution” and “Enterprise” which were sent out (in their hundreds), under Royal authorities and licences.
Officially commissioned to harass hostile shipping, such craft were more often than not engaged in trading or smuggling with the enemy or in piracy against allies.
They were remarkably like the Somali pirates of today, often carrying heavily armed crews of just a dozen or fifteen men but bringing great wealth to their amateurs and much annoyance, distress or suffering to others.
Inevitably, the Island based smuggling, privateering and “piracy” activities were defended as being beneficial to the British Imperial interest.
The business was a great training ground for navy recruits and many national and local heroes served on the vessels but they also incurred the wrath of others.
Invasions, such as that of 1781, were constantly threatened by foreign powers and so too were the calls on the British Government to curtail the abuses by imposing English Customs or other regulations.
Similar threats and pressures continue to this day from Britain the EU, the OECD, the IMF, the UN the USA and elsewhere. Now, the Crown Officers continue to defend their own privileged and anachronistic positions within a system of government and administration which must surely be condemned before an international tribunal soon.
The Crown Officers also continue to defend the finance industry - the 21st century equivalent of the nefarious smuggling and privateering – and seek to give credence to the myth of 800 years of democratic government and benign administration under their own or ancestors’ authority.
During the 18th century there were just six Jersey advocates (appointed by authority of the Bailiff of course). Now, there are over 250 (mostly within huge international partnerships) – yet, just a couple have dared to express any dissenting views before Lord Carswell’s Inquiry on the Roles of the Crown Officers. Jersey lawyers are the central and essential professional core of the whole Island based finance business and predictably, the Crown Officers are recruited exclusively from among them.
It is no great surprise therefore, that former Bailiff Sir Philip Bailhache is such a pivotal figure in the “campaign” to promote Jersey self-government or to resist any perceived encroachments on the powers of Jersey lawyers, the obscure legal system or the Crown Officers.
He has, over recent years been a constant, dripping promoter of Jersey’s own flags, an anthem, an art gallery, the use of French language, the Island’s “International Personality” and the creation of Jersey offices in Brussels, China and the Middle East and the expansion of the vast, international Finance business.
Although, conflicted as both Chief Judge in the Jersey Court system and “President” and “Speaker” of the States Assembly, he was never visibly restrained from making overtly political public speeches or encouraging the greater “independence” of Jersey’s government and administration from that of the UK or EU.
It is significant that Philip Bailhache (now retired as Bailiff but still a Judge) should on 17 September 2010 be a principal participant in the “Dependency or Sovereignty – Time to Take Stock” conference at Jersey’s Hotel De France. Here along with 16 “experts” such as Lord Falconer, Lord Hoffman, Prince Nikolais of Lichtenstein and Sir David Simmons “ex chief Justice of Barbados” the “constitutional position and future options” for the Channel Islands will be discussed.
The delegates to this conference are not of course the invited general public of Jersey but are drawn from those exclusively accepted and able to pay over £250 to attend.
As in 1769, this is the latest manifestation of the great divide in Jersey between the general population and the non-elected elite who still retain such a stranglehold as lawyers and Crown Officers over Island life.
The conference is the latest attempt to defend the old feudal-based order, to maintain the dominance of the Crown Officers and plan to resist any future reforms or restraints that might flow from the UK or elsewhere.
It is a call to be prepared for political “independence” but wholly within the control of the finance industry and its servants.
On Thursday 2 September 2010, at 7.30p.m., Lord Carswell’s lawyer dominated Inquiry will assemble (at St. Paul’s Centre) to hear any members of the general public who have not yet submitted evidence or views on the Roles of the Crown Officers. Admission is Free.
This is your final opportunity. Take it if you can.