Saturday, September 8, 2012

The importance of Friday 28 SEPTEMBER - JERSEY REFORM DAY

…something we should ALL be doing on Friday 28 September this year.

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. Their leader Thomas Gruchy lies in an unmarked Trinity grave.
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 government 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 with authority to suppress the troublemakers.

In fact, the London government did not give the Lemprieres the authority they 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.
It did make clear that neither the Jersey Court nor the evolving States could pass new laws or amend existing ones, without prior Privy Council approval.

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 Inquiry (under Lord Carswell’s chairmanship) into the Roles of The Crown Officers 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) 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 was 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 was the Crown Officers themselves, the Bailiffs, Deputy Bailiffs, Attorneys and Solicitors General who 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.
Former Deputy Bob Hill’s successful call for an examination of the Role of the Crown Officers was 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.

For the modern Royalists, it was all hands to the pump trying to maintain the Crown Officers’ ship afloat. Even the Crown Officers from Guernsey were encouraged to give support in an effort to keep the progressive standards of the twenty-first century, at bay.

There seemed 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.

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 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.

The single most important finding of the “Lord Carswell” inquiry – that the Bailiff should not sit in the States – has inevitably been ignored.

As in 1769, this is just another 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.
We in Jersey should remember the brave heroes of 28 September 1769 with pride every year celebrate their achievements and continue to demand further reforms.

Currently (summer of 2012), following the proposition of (former) Deputy Wimberley an Electoral Commission has been set up to consider the structure of the Jersey States Assembly and whether reforms are needed.

Unfortunately, this Commission has been hijacked by the former Bailiff Sir Philip Bailhache in his new role as an elected Senator of the States and the Commission is now loaded with politicians rather than the independent people that Deputy Wimberley had originally intended.

Every effort is being made by the old guard to ensure that virtually no reform takes place.
The media is manipulated as always to present a defence of the status quo and the Commission has already indicated that it will be pursuing a very narrow interpretation of its Terms of Reference.

Now, as in 1769, the people of Jersey cannot rely upon the government of the Island to address the many problems that are obvious in this community of just 100,000.
Unfairness and lack of equality runs throughout so many aspects of official political thinking which has scant regard for international obligations or standards.

Problems of poverty, poor housing, inadequate heath care and such like – which the protestors of 1769 were concerned with – remain unsolved or addressed.

The reforms of government itself and the lack of democratic representation - another major part of the 1769 grievances - also remain unresolved and it seems unlikely that the current Electoral Commission will support change for the better.

Peaceful protest on the streets, public debate, the free expression and exchange of ideas to challenge the political status quo - these are the wholly respectable and democratic rights of the people in a democratic society.

As in 1769, it is surely now necessary for the public to take the initiative for reform and remove the discussion away from the too cosy and restricted confines of the States Chamber and out of the clutches of complacent officials and their media mouthpieces.


  1. Perhaps another take on the events of 1769 would be that another group of well-heeled but 'exluded/opposition' establishment figures used the working class mob to further their own ends in an attempt to seize power. One of the anti-Lempriere faction who emerged from these events was Moses Corbet whose aunt had married Charles Lempriere. It sounds more akin to a family squabble than a rebellion.

  2. In a sense all human life is a family squabble but the historic evidence does describe a genuine socially motivated protest here in 1769.
    Don't you want any working class heroes Tommy?

    1. Yes but the 1769 event didn't produce them -Fiott, Corbett, Le Geyt used the discontent to their own ends and when they gained 'power' in 1771 ther was no obvious benefit for the common man. The poor did what they always did - they emigrated in search of better opportunities and their place was filled by immigrants arriving in search of better opportunities.The working class would have to wait the best part of a century to get their heroes coming out of the Chartist movement.

  3. Somewhat puzzled by tour comment Tommy Hattle.
    I am not aware that "Fiott, Corbett Le Geyt" achieved any particular political power after 1769. The Fiott's were mostly merchant/shippers who had some prominence commercially but largely ended in bankruptcy and early death although their East India ventures had the potential for great wealth. Moses Corbet was removed as Lt Governor of Jersey in 1781 following his lack of action at the infamous "Battle". His family were probably more important as property owners in England although I have not researched them.
    Le Geyt's military career hit its peak at Minden in 1759 but his appointment as the first Jersey postmaster in the 1790s was hardly important politically.

    If you know anything different plese don't keep it to yourself - we want the knowledge about Jersey's obscure social and political history to be revealed and discussed.
    Likewise if you have any knowledge about any Jersey Chartists this would be useful to know. Thomas Gruchy himself advocated annual elections - so was ahead of the Chartists there.

    As for the Jersey tradition of exporting labour - well of course that is true of all poor communities (Ireland/ Portugal etc etc)and a history of the Jersey exodus over the centuries would be very useful. Will you volunteer?
    Of course there are now 20,000 people with Jersey Housing qualifications who do not live in Jersey - so where are they and why do they not have the right to vote in Island elections?
    Much to learn/research and discuss Mr Hattle and here is your platform....

  4. CorbetT was in power as Lieut Governor for ten year as a front man for the anti-Lempriere group, Fiott continued in business but other than taking the salary there was no benefit forthcoming for the masses who gathered in the Square in 1769. Even the codification of the laws was accredited to the army commander who arrived to quell the unrest. After his trial Corbett did live in England but he could never be described as being a large landowner. He died in relative obscurity. The events of 1769 should be seen for what they were a manifestation of social unrest utilised for their own ends by a disgruntled element of the establishment. Part of the awakening of the working class demand for a say in government but this was only the stirrings of a sleeping giant which would require the industrialisation of the UK economy to enable it to formulate. Jersey as an essential rural economy would not be significant enough to force change on the local oligarchy until it became the norm on the mainland.

  5. So Mr Hattle - you suggest that we in Jersy wait for reform to arrive from London and carry on watching Coronation Street for our political education?
    Or do you have another idea....

    1. I certainly would not recommend waiting for any reform from London. Jersey is not a colony and is not and never has been represented in that legislature. Besides I don’t think the Westminster system is that representative anyway and certainly open to abuses as shown by Mr Blair’s enthusiastic use of patronage which would have made even the Hanoverian kings blush. If you want to carry on using Coronation Street as a basis for your political education then please carry on – but personally I haven’t seen the programme since before Maggie Thatcher was on the scene.

      What I am saying is don’t judge historical events from a modern values. History was as it was and created by people with different value systems than we have today. We can look at what happened and disagree with the outcomes; we can be angry about how things panned out but we must try to understand the circumstances which conspired to create the event.

      Politically, I have no need for a platform as I have no specific cause to try to push. However, if I was to offer any ideas about Jersey’s political future I would say that we are prisoners of history and, therefore, we should try to find a solution which is best suited to islanders irrespective of London, Paris, Phnom Pen or wherever.

    2. If I was to give my views on a model for the future reform of the island’s political system, I would possibly suggest :-

      Giving the vote to every adult over the age of 18 living in the island (I think 16 is too young – although, for some voters so is 68, so possibly leave it at 16) subject to a 12-month residency qualification. Those people with Housing qualifications but not living in the island would not be able to vote.

      Holding all elections on the same day and the term of office would be for a fixed 4-year period.

      Because of the nature of population distribution within the island I would ignore the traditional parish boundaries in favour of political constituencies/districts based on number of voters living in them. Working out how many States members are required to make the body work efficiently (50, 40 or 30 whatever), would result in the number of electoral districts.

      While for sake of ease I might allow two members to be elected per constituency I would definitely not recommend the single transferable vote as I think it allows political deadwood, placemen and party professionals into the system.

      Reflecting a bi-cameral system I think there should be two types of elected members - voting, who can make laws, and non-voting.

      Voting members would be elected by the district and would, therefore, be the majority while as a nod to tradition and reflecting the concept of a second chamber I would have the constables as non-voting members, who would then serve as the Scrutiny Panels.

      Moreover, as heads of the parochial honorary system, I think the salary of the constable should be split 50/50 with the parish but the States element should only be paid on a pro-rata basis determined by how much States work each constable undertakes.

      I would reiterate that democracy is a responsibility as well as a privilege, the vote is the right of every adult inhabitant of the island as well as an obligation – an obligation not only to fellow islanders but an obligation to all those who have gone before and their struggle to gain the right to use the ballot box.

    3. Jersey even now has a system in which it is possible to sway policy but islanders need to participate in it. Go to Parish meetings, stand for election to various positions in both the parish system and the States. It is a system that was originally devised for a small community to organize itself but it requires the citizen to actively participate in it. The establishment which some people like to denigrate know this and use it; create change by challenging them at their own game. Meetings are advertised in the Jersey Gazette – the back pages of the JEP. In order to influence the government of the island at many levels it is necessary to participate.

      But as I said these are simply my views and I have no particular desire to use a platform other than to urge people to try to better understand the past within its context. It is a sobering thought but in the 14th century a village idiot knew more about everyday life in the 14th century than an entire army of medieval history professors from 21st century universities.

      But hey, what do I know?

  6. Hello Mr Dunn,

    Ive always been a follower of your blog – it’s one of the best ones in Jersey because of its organisation and you personally acting in a proactive manner from a member of the general public.

    I'm a Jersey Born Lawyer who left the island with my family a few years ago - I had to leave my home because of the levels of stress that corruption in jersey was causing me in my day to day working life.

    I and my family are devout Christians and I came to a decision with my wife that I would be a happier person in the profession I chose and love if we were to leave the island and practice elsewhere.

    I became embroiled in a particular case involving a particular civil servant, a Minister, and the current Bailiff William Bailhache, and if it wasn’t for the legal obligations I had with the firm I worked for and other family issues I would have gone public with the whole matter.

    The majority of the general public are completely in the dark of the level of corruption that is happening on a day to day basis , and as a Jerseymen it is extremely distressing to see the amount of islanders affected by corruption in the island – it’s a situation which seriously need to be looked at and if I was a state’s member it would be the first thing I would be working on.

    I’m unequivocal in the position that reform is needed - and in my opinion its need is of the most urgent importance for democracy in the island amongst other areas of concern that the general public are yet not fully aware of.

    You may also believe reform is needed Mr Dunn and im sure you speak with many people as to the reasons why - but don’t you think it’s a waste of your time to keep banging your head against a wall by continuously repeating yourself to people who don’t want to listen ?

    Don’t you think that a different approach is needed to use your experience and knowledge of affairs there in Jersey?

    Why don’t you and others, who say reform is needed, re-think about how you portray your political awareness with an example of a professional report as to why reform is needed in the public interest in an organised manner to bring matters to the attention of the public via the states members who will bring propositions into the assembly?

    Have you or anyone you know done this before?

    It never fails to surprise me that those who believe reform is needed in our island never actually take the correct steps to highlight its irrefutable and justified need - it one thing to keep quoting sources from reports and reports and more reports - when all that the situation needs is a bit of professionalism and strategic plan.

    God speed to you