Jurats are appointed in Alderney, Guernsey and Jersey and today they are lay officers of the island's courts, with responsibilities ranging from acting in the place of juries in trials to quasi judicial functions. Today people from all backgrounds can be elected to the position but in early days they were drawn from the most important men in the community, largely Seigneurs of the islands' fiefs. As such, they had considerable political power.
Jurats in Alderney
Alderney has six Jurats, appointed by the Crown, with a chairman. They are judges of both fact and law, assisted by a qualified clerk. Their role is much closer to that of stipendiary magistrates in England.
Jurats in Guernsey
In Guernsey, the Jurats are elected by the States of Election, made up of the Island's judiciary, Law Officers and Anglican clergy.
The Royal Court of Guernsey sits either as the Ordinary Court (Bailiff or Deputy Bailiff and two jurats) or the Full Court (Bailiff or Deputy Bailiff and seven jurats)
The robes of jurats are purple
Jurats in Jersey
"The problem of the origin of Jurats". writes Le Patourel, "is one of most baffling in the history of the islands". There are two apparently contradictory statements. At the Inquest of 1348 the islanders asserted that King John "instituted twelve sworn coroners (coronatores jurati) to keep the pleas and rights pertaining to the Crown".
A reorganisation of island institutions must have been necessary after the separation from Normandy, and many in 1248 remembered the reign of John; but Jurats are more akin to "doomsmen" and other old Teutonic customs than to the feudal ideas of the 13th century. And in l309, when Justices Itinerant demanded by what right Jurats were elected, the islands replied that "their forefathers from time immemorial have always been wont to have twelve Jurats from among themselves", who "judge all causes, pleas, contempts, transgressions, and felonies. except such as be too arduous". Does the earlier statement merely mean that John made the existing Jurats coroners?
The word Jurati at first seems merely an adjective, 'bound by an oath', but it soon established itself as a title. We read of 'the King's Jurats', 'Jurats of the Assizes', 'Jurats of the Royal Court'. By the middle of the 13th century their position is clear. In the King's Courts all judgements were rendered and all fines assessed by them. Even when Justices Itinerant visited the island, the Jurats claimed to sit with them, and this claim was usually allowed.
Methods of election
The method of election varied. In 1323 they were chosen "by the King's officers and the optimates (magnates) of the country". Maulevrier's Constitutions in 1462 order their election by the Bailiff, Jurats, Rectors, and Constables. In 1600 instructions were issued, "according to the ancient and laudable customs of the isle", that the Constables should consult their Parish Assemblies, and submit three candidates to the States, who would select one of them. But from 1603 Jurats were elected "by the plurality of votes of the common people of the isle". Once elected they could not resign without special permission from the King in Council.
- Election after Sunday service, as described by Jersey historian Philip Falle
Today, Jurats' seniority is determined by the order in which they were elected, but in the 16th and 17th centuries there were often prolonged disputes over precedence. The Seigneur of St Ouen was invariably a Jurat, and was acknowledged as the most senior, providing he had reached the age of majority on the death of his father. If not, he would take the first vacancy which arose after attaining his majority. The order of precedence of the other seigneurs was frequently challenged, and on more than one occasion an elected Jurat refused to take the oath of office or to sit in Court because he was not satisfied with his position in the order of seniority. Such challenges had to be referred to the Privy Council, and in the meantime the recalcitrant Jurat was often imprisoned for contempt.
Today the Jurats have a largely judicial role, but in earlier times they were very powerful men, and politics played a big part of their roles. The Royal Court was the supreme body for creating and enforcing laws, and when the States of Jersey was established the Jurats sat in that assembly as well as the Court, retaining their political role until after World War Two.
Jurats were formerly elected for life but now serve until retirement at 72, although they are entitled to retain the title until they die. They are elected by an electoral college constituted of States Members and members of the legal profession. The Royal Court sits either as the Inferior Number (judge and two jurats) or the Superior Number (judge and at least five jurats). Only the Superior Number can impose sentences of imprisonment of more than four years. The Superior Number also acts as a court of first appeal from the Inferior Number. Appeals from the Superior Number are heard by the Court of Appeal in which jurats do not sit.
From time to time the Bailiff will appoint one or more Lieut-Bailiffs to assist him in the running of the courts. Until the creation of the office of Deputy Bailiff in 1958, the role of Lieut-Bailiff was very important, and involved deputising for the Bailiff in his absence. Some Bailiffs had time-consuming roles outside the island and their Lieut-Bailiffs were de facto heads of civil affairs in the island. There are two Lieut-Bailiffs at the moment.
At public elections, Jurats customarily serve as autorisés to oversee polling and declare results.
- The robes of jurats are red with black trim.
Lists of Jurats
- To be added
- A list of Jurats in office at various times from 1274-1473
- A list of Jurats with years of appointment from 1473-1699
- A list of Jurats with years of appointment from 1700-1899
These lists were researched by the Rev J R Lempriere and published in the Bulletins of La Société Jersiaise. From 1274 to 1504 he researched incomplete lists and Court documents. After 1504 the names are drawn from the records of the Royal Court and the States. The earlier records show Jurats known to have been involved in Court business in the years concerned, rather than dates of appointment. It is not possible to identify from this list when fathers were succeeded by sons of the same name, as was quite common. From 1473 onwards the names are, in most part, shown in the year of appointment. Given names have sometimes been anglicised in the lisitings before 1473, according to the tradition at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, but virtually all Jurats in this period would have had French first names. Names are shown with their original spelling again post-1473.