Laws, customs and privileges
The 1834 Guide to the Island of Jersey by Abraham Le Cras, gives a fascinating insight into what life was like in the island 180 years ago. It’s title page modestly describes the work as ‘the most complete Guide for Strangers ever published’. We have chosen the following extracts from the 90 pages devoted to Laws, Customs and Privileges in the guide.
- Actions – the preliminary processes are called an Ordre de Justice and a Remonstrance , being a complaint of the injury or wrong sustained. They are of a civil and mixed nature as in England.
- Admiralty Court – any master of a vessel, commercial traveller, or agent, whose detention would be injurious or expensive, can call an Admiralty Court by consulting the Deputy Viscount, and get his cause heard, whether it be for money, for assualt, or otherwise.
- Advocates are persons appointed to conduct suits in the Royal Court and fill the double characters of Advocates and Solicitors; they are limited to six, besides the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General. They are in the nomination of the Bailiff or his Lieutenant.
- Aliens – On their arrival in the island are obliged to present themselves to the Constable oif the parish, who is bound to report their names to the Governor]]. They are allowed to reside in the island only during his pleasure, and cannot intermarry with British subjects without his permission in writing. By the Ordinance of the Royal Court of 19 January 1801, all proprietors of houses are required to transmit to the Constable’s Office, a list of the strangers (not British subjects) residing in their houses, or to whom they may have let a house or apartments, together with the profession of such strangers, their number in family, the length of time they have resided in the island, and the country and parish to which they respectively belong.
- Assault – Prosecutions cannot be maintained for assaults but by the evidence of two witnesses; the punishment is fine and imprisonment. Any person charged with an assault is not only liable to be criminally tried for the offence by enditement but can be sued for damages in a civil form, notwithstanding he may have been acquitted or convicted and punished.
- Auctioneers require no licence, nor is any duty payable by purchasers on their lots; but a tax to the poor of one penny, galled ‘God’s pence’, is charged and disposed of by the auctioneer according to his discretion.
- Bastards become legitimate offsprings in Law if the parents afterwards intermarry and acknowledge them, provided they were unmarried at the birth of such child or children’ But it is an undecided question whether a son so previously produced would inherit, in preference to one born subsequently to the marriage. Women Strangers pregnant of illegitimate children must give bail that their offspring shall not become chargeable, or quit the island.
- Bigamy – It is supposed that there is no part of his Majesty’s dominions where bigamy is so prevalent as in Jersey and Guernsey, and it can only be accounted for from the fact that the Criminal Law as practised in the islands does not recognise it as an offence; and even if it did, it is supposed to be only in case both marriages took place in their own jurisdiction. It is seldom, if ever, a case of this kind occurs. Our bigamists have sufficient precaution to marry the second wife or husband in a different jurisdiction to the first. It is said a person may contract a first marriage in England, or elsewhere, a second in Guernsey, a third in Jersey, and a fourth in France, and vice versa, and in consequence of each country having separate Laws and independent jurisdiction, put the injured parties at defiance to obtain redress in either of the two Islands. Nearly 200 cases of bigamy are well known in Jersey alone, some men having three wives and some women three husbands.
- Brandy, Geneva and other spirits may be imported into or exported from the islands, providing it be in square-rigged vessels of the burthen of 100 tons or upwards.
- Bread – Invariably sold by weight according to quality from 1d to 2d per pound.
- Butchers are not allowed to bring any meat into market after 12 o’clock.
- Commerce – Every article of the growth, produce and manufacture of Jersey is admitted ito England, on layment only of the same duties as are imposed on similar commodities grown, produced or manufactured there. A proper certificate from the grower sworn before a Magistrate is necessary on exportation.
- Cutting and maiming subjects the offender to corporal punishment.
- Delinquencies in Military Duties – The regular forces are tried by Court Martial; those in the Militia by the Royal Court, which is in fact a Military tribunal, inasmuch as nearly all the Jurats hold Commissions in the Militia
- Descent – Descent or inheritances are somewhat intricate in Jersey. By the Code of 1771 the eldest child, whether male or female, in direct succession, is to have the house with its appurtenances, together with 30 perches of ground for a kitchen garden; and should there not be above four vergees more, the eldest to have the choice of four verfgees, and afterwards of the tenth vergee of what may remain. He also has other privileges, in order to enable him to pay the rents due on the estate. After these have been arranged, the remainder of the property, whether consisting of houses, lands or rents, to be divided between the eldest and theother inheritors according to the ancient custom and practices of the Island – two-thirds among the males, including the eldest, who no stands with the younger sons; and only one third between all the daughters, however numerous. The value of the lands to be divided is made by six appraisers appointed at a Parish Meeting.
- Dowry – The wife’s portion of her husband’s property, which he possessed at his marriage, is one third. He can sell none of such property without her consent, and her claim holds good against his estate in bankruptcy as well as after his death. The wife has no control in property acquired by her husband subsequent to marriage. Furniture, plate and linen are considered as belonging to the wife. A widower enjoys at his wife’s death, if there have been children, her real estate until he marries again, but it then reverts to her next of kin, as it does if there has been no issue.
- Elections – for Jurats, Constables, Centeniers and other public officers, formerly took place in the parish church, on a Sunday immediately after the morning service, but the day has been altered to Tuesday, and instead of the votes being given at the church, they are given in the towns of St Helier and St Aubin, ath the public market place, and at the Military Sheds in the other parishes.
- Examption from military duty – By the 37th clause of the Military Code, the Magistrates, King’s Officers and Rectors are alone exempt from service. Persons claiming exemption from active duty in the ranks, owing to bodily infirmity, must have a certificate from the medical board, approved of by the Lieut-Governor.
- Executions are only for murder and are very rare, but when they take place, the culprit is obliged to walk with a halter round his neck from the Prison to the place of execution, which is up a steep hill, called Gallows Hill, at the extremety of the town. The Governor has no power to suspend the execution of a sentence till the King’s pleasure be known. Whenever capital punishment is inflicted on a prisoner, or he is sentenced to the pillory or banishment for five or more years, his estate, real and personal, is forfeited to the Crown, or lord of the manor.
- Floating sea weed may be collected at any hour except Monday morning before sun rise.
- Fishing boars – By a late regulation of his Majesty’s Customs, no fishing vessel arriving in England from Jersey can have on board at the time of her arrival more than one gallon and a half of spritis, two pounds of tobacco, and other stores, the duty on which does not exceed five shillings for the use of the whole excise. All above that quantity found on board will be sent to the Custom House, for the duty to be paid thereon.
- Forgery is punished only as a fraud, by imprisonment, whipping or banishment. In 1814 a person found guilty of the crime was sentenced to the pillory, and had the end of his right ear cut off.
- Game – any person has the right to sport with gun and dogs without licence, but is liable to action for trespass from those over whose lands he may pass.
- Harbour Penalties – Persons landing cattle from France without giving notice to the Harbourmaster are liable to a penalty of 1000 livres. There are about 14,000 beasts slaughtered annually in the island.
- Hawkers and Pedlers – No licence is required by His Majesty’s Subjects, but foreigners must obtain permission of the Bailiff, for which a trifling charge is made.
- Husband and wife – The Court is not competent to dissolve a marriage by divorce under any circumstances, whether they be disability, ill temper or adultery. The husband cannot be relieved from the maintenance of his wife, notwithstanding their separation, nor can he bastardise her children though she lived in open adultery, unless by legal process, and proof that it was physically impossible that he could be the father of them.
- Inquests in sudden and accidental deaths are held on a mandamus from the Chief Magistrate, by the Viscomte and 12 jurors who are summoned by him; whoever he chooses for the service is compelled to attend, but each person can demand 2s 6d for his time.
- Insanity – persons although insane are responsible for their civil acts in the eye of the Law, until the Royal Court upon the certificate of three medical men and at the request of the nearest relations, shall appoint a curateur or guardian, the expenses attending which are about £12.
- Jews – marriages if solemnised in Jersey, only according to their rituals, are not recognised by the Royal Court; hence such a married woman has no claim in law upon her husband, while he lives in the island, therefore her children are illegitimate.
- Juries – Every criminal accusation is first examined by a petty jury termed l’enditement , composed of the parochial Constable and 12 of his officers – seven of whom must concur to find a verdict of guilty, and the prisoner has a right of appeal to a Grand Jury, called la Grande Enquete composed of 24 persons from the three neighbouring parishes. More are sometimes summoed. The prisoner may on good ground object to any of them. Five out of these 24 wil lacquit a prisoner. The verdice, instead of being as in England, guilty ofr not guilty, is here either ‘more cuplable than innocent’ or ‘more innocent than guilty’. The sentence of death being pronounced, the Bailiff or his Lieutenant and the Jurats, all of whom being uncovered, put on their hats and the criminal kneels to receive his doom – a very solemn and impressive scene.
- Landlord and tenant – when a tenant decamps from the island and leaves his house unoccupied, the landlord, with the consent and assistanceof a police officer, can break into the house and by write, distrain of the goods for the benefit of himself and other creditors, but cannot claim a priority of payment for more than the amount of the rent due, and six months to come. A lodger cannot legally continue the possession of lodgings after the expiration of his landlord’s term.
- Larceny is punished by imprisonment, public whipping or banishment.
- Lettre de Cachet – a kind of write, granted by the Bailiff for half a crown, by which a stranger may be arrested by his creditor for any sum not less than four pence helfpenny.
- Lunatics or those who are considered incapable of managing their own affairs, may be depreived of the administration of their property, by an order of the Court, which, however, is not granted until incapacity is fully proved by six principal people, inhabitants of the same parish, and competent to form a judgment. A curator is then chosen by seven of the nearest relatives of the lunatic, who are equally responsible with the person to whom the trust is committed for the proper administration of the estate.
- Management for single men , or swindling according to Law. If in debt, and determined ot to pay, take a fancy to a girl, sell her allyour property, pass the contract in private, the next day marry, on the following one get separated quant aux biens , and then you have the satisfaction of enjoying all your property, through the protection of your wife, and at the expense of your creditors.
- Market regulations
- Military Vingtenier – a messenger whose duty is to collect all fines for non attendance at Militia drill, and generally to warn the men and attend to what relates to service within the parish. He has a commission on the fines of 3d each.
- Murder and Manslaughter are distinguished by an Order of Council dated 30 November 1699. Manslaughter is punished by fine, imprisonment or banishment, according to circumstances.
- Naturalization – The States have the right of Naturalizing Foreigners, after they have partaken of the Holy Sacrament according to the forms of the Church of England, who if preferred to any benefices are not admissible unless naturalized in the Island. A Jersey woman marryig a foreigner loses her dowry, when that foreigner buys property in the name of his children, and he cannot buy any in his own name. There is no other mode to prevent such consequences but the naturalization of the man. Children born in the Island of a foreigner, though a Catholic, have the same rights as all other natives.
- Nuisances may be remedied by applying to a Centenier, by whom a fine is imposed according to the nature of the nuisance. In the case, the King v Dutot, the Court decided that the Chief of Police was not bound to remove or cause to be removed a nuisance from a Churchyard, as the Churchwardens alone were bound to keep that place from profanation.
- Oyster fishing regulations
- Regulations concerning paupers
- Pawnbrokers are not tolerated.
- Pleadings – No person can plead his own cause, without permission of the Court, even though he be an Advocate, and a client having once selected his Advocate for a cause, by a rule of Court he cannot change him. Advocates are allowed two speeches on each side.
- Prevots are officers of the Court who deliver summonses in civil causes; their fee is sixpence.
- Regulations for employing prisoners
- Privileged Persons – Members of Parliament and Peers of the Realm are liable to arrest in the Islands.
- Proceedings in the Court are conducted in the French language, notwithstanding the English is quite as familiar both to the Bench and the Bar.
- Publicans – There are upwards of 400 in St Helier, producing a revenue of £2,000 per annum, exclusive of the Greffier’s fees amounting to £120. They are licenced by the Lieut-Governor, Bailiff and Jurats, once a year, upon the recommendation of the Parochial assembly, the charge for which is £5 per annum, payable in advance with a fee of 6s to the Greffier. Licence for selling Beer and Cider only is 25s per annum. Merchants and others selling not less than by the bottle require no licence.
- Qualification of electors – Everyone whose name is inscribed in the book of rates, who is not in arrears, and who is a chief of family, has the right of voting.
- Refractory Patients in the Hospital are put into the black hole and kept on bread and water until they become obedient.
- Sabbath – Publicans allowing persons in their houses during divine service are liable to a fine of 14s, besides 15d on each person found in their houses.
- Servants may be discharged without notice for incontinence or moral turpitude.
- Surgeons etc – Any person may practice as Apothecary, Surgeon or Physician, by licence of the Court; the regulations of the Society of Apothecaries, Colleges of Surgeons, and Physicians, have no force here.
- Tithes – The Rector is not bound to take his Tithe in kind, without notice, if he has been accustomed to take it in money.
- Unnatural Offences are punished by death.
- Vagabonds, if natives, are placed in the Hospital with the deserving poor instead of a house of Correction; if strangers, banished.