HC Deb 22 June 1864 vol 176 cc126-39

Order for Committee read.


Sir, before you leave the chair, I wish to make one or two observations with regard to this Bill. It will be in the recollection of some Members of the House that the second reading took place a considerable time since, and the Bill has been postponed from time to time until at length we have arrived at the stage when the House is asked to go into Committee upon it. The reason why I am anxious to make some observations on the matter is this, that the state of opinion in the Island of Jersey has undergone a very great change since I first introduced the Bill to the notice of the House. The Bill, as I stated on a former occasion, is similar to the one which was introduced into this House in the year 1861. Indeed that Bill, which was introduced by Mr. Serjeant Pigott, was precisely the same as the Bill which is now before the House for its consideration in Committee. It was founded upon the Report of the Commission which sat in 1859 and 1860, and which was composed of Sir John Awdry, the right hon. the Earl of Devon and Richard Jebb, Esq. They were the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the civil laws of Jersey, and their Report, with appendix, was presented to both Houses of Parliament in the year 1860. Now, in the year 1861, Mr. Serjeant Pigott introduced his Bill into this House. The Government of that day, Sir George Cornewall Lewis being at the head of the Home Department, entirely approved of the provisions of the Bill; and, in point of fact, the Bill, as I have stated, was entirely founded upon the Report of the Commission. But Sir George Cornewall Lewis at that time stated that it was inexpedient for Mr. Serjeant Pigott to go on with the Bill, as the States of Jersey had not had a sufficient opportunity of considering the recommendations of the Commissioners, and he was anxious that they should be submitted to their consideration with a view that they might themselves legislate upon the subject. Therefore it was that Mr. Serjeant Pigott withdrew the Bill in the year 1861, which I have had the honour of re-introducing in the present Session. Now, it is needless for me to go into the complaints that have from time to time been made by persons resident in the Island of Jersey of the mal-administration of the laws of that Island in consequence of the Royal Court of Jersey not performing the duties of a Court in the way in which we, at this time of day, expect that a Court should perform them. It is quite sufficient to refer to the Report in which the Royal Commissioners stated numerous objections to this Court; in point of fact, they condemned it altogether, and made suggestions which have been embodied in this Bill. I will just call the attention of the House to some of the statements in the Report of the Royal Commissioners. They say that whatever may have been in earlier times the merits of this very ancient tribunal, the constitution of which they had discussed, it was their deliberate conviction that the Island, with its great wealth and population, its large foreign commerce, and all the important and complicated interests which have arisen in it, has at the present day so completely outgrown its judicature, that any reforms which shall leave the duties of the Superior Court in the hands of a numerous body without professional education, whose attendance is precarious, and for whose nomination no one is responsible to public opinion, will be absolutely nugatory. They, likewise, state that it appeared to them that it was essential that the Royal Court should in future consist of a small number of Judges of competent legal attainments and experience, with salaries sufficient to give the public a right to demand their punctual attendance, and nominated, during good behaviour, by some authority responsible for the propriety of the selection. They proposed, therefore, that the number should be three—namely, the Bailiff and two puisne Judges, to be nominated by the Crown, and to hold office during good behaviour. The Commissioners added that they should receive salaries of £1,200, £1,000, and £1,000 respectively; all Court fees of every description being paid, as soon as the necessary arrangements could be made, into a common fee fund. They further stated that they saw no advantage in continuing the Crown Officers as essential members of the Court, and recommended that one Judge should sit alone for duties which would be in the main similar to those to which the nombre inférieur is now competent, so far as such duties might be retained, whilst there would be less frequent but stated and calculable sittings of the Full Court. These are the recommendations of the Royal Commissioners, and that is all, in point of fact, that this Bill pretends to effect. It having been shown most clearly by the Commissioners of 1859, that without a reform of the Royal Court of Jersey no good could be expected from any other reforms that might be made, it was, therefore, thought right that this object should, if possible, be attained—that they should go at once to the root of the evil which exists there—namely, to reform that Court, and give a tribunal to the Island which would be effective. It has been asserted by some that the inhabitants of Jersey are a peculiar race of people, that they conquered this country, and have a right to go on precisely as they please. They entirely forget that a very large proportion of the inhabitants of that Island are at the present moment English people, and that whatever, as the Commissioners say, might have been the merits of their very ancient tribunal in former times, they are now discontented with the system under which twelve Jurats are elected by simple ratepayers, the only qualification for the office being that they shall possess a sum of £30 a year, and shall not be butcher or baker, or belong to some other one or two trades. That being the only qualification for the Judges of the land, English persons and the great bulk of the Jersey people are entirely discontented with the system, because they say, very truly, that it is perfectly monstrous that these men without the necessary knowledge of law—and nobody knows whether they ever had any—should have the power of pronouncing decisions in that Court, simply because the Bailiff was a lawyer. But that functionary does not direct the Court. He does not say what is the law, and leaves it to the jury to decide upon the fact. These Jurats are the Judges both of law and fact, and when a question of law has to be decided, they put it to the vote, and the Bailiff has no more power or authority than any one of the Jurats of the Court. Now, this has been found to act in the most inconvenient manner. One great objection is, that when evidence is taken in a case, it is necessary to have the same Jurats every time the Court meets, in order that the business may proceed; but in addition to their being Jurats, they likewise are members of the States, and they have, in point of fact, thrust upon them such numerous duties, that it is utterly impossible that they can attend to their judicial functions. The consequence is, that they are neglected, and great injustice is thereby done to the people in the Island of Jersey. Now, as I stated, the inhabitants of Jersey are a very peculiar people, and they arrogate to themselves a position higher, I believe, than that of anybody in this country. They say that they conquered us, but they entirely forget that Henry the First conquered them again. I do not however think it is worth while to go into these ancient matters. The question is, what is necessary to be done at the present time of day? What is necessary for the comfort and the security of the life and property of the inhabitants of the Island of Jersey? And, moreover, what is necessary for the interests of those who are trading with them, and having communication with them every day? In former times there was a very small population in the Island of Jersey. At the present time there are no less than 60,000 inhabitants, or nearly so, and a great portion of these are English. It appears by the last census what are the precise numbers of each description of individuals in that Island. In addition to that, they own 50,000 tons of shipping. There are most important questions coming under the notice of the Royal Court from day to day; and how have these questions to be decided? They have to be decided by these twelve men, called Jurats, who do not necessarily know anything about the law, and, I believe, the only appeal there is is to the Privy Council, and that, I think, cannot be in regard to any matter under £200. Therefore, the condition in which the people of Jersey find themselves is certainly not one that anybody else would envy. They do not themselves now envy it. They have always had a strong desire to legislate for themselves. They certainly have had a strong jealousy of any legislation with respect to the Island being undertaken by the Imperial Parliament, and the desire of those who were anxious for reform was, that whatever could be done in that direction should be done by the Queen in Council; and very early in this year a petition was forwarded to the Queen in Council, signed by many of the most respectable persons in Jersey, and holding high positions, praying for a reform of the laws of Jersey, and asking for the very reform which is contained in this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department presented that address. The Return which was moved for by an hon. Member of this House of the correspondence which passed between the States of Jersey and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, has been presented to the House, and I would recommend those Returns to the attention of hon. Members. I will only say that they show on the part of the Home Secretary the strongest desire that the States of Jersey should legislate for themselves, and he points out to them what is necessary. On the other hand, I think, it appears from that correspondence, that the States of Jersey set themselves entirely against any reform whatever. But beyond that, I have been supplied from time to time with the Jersey papers containing accounts of the debates which have taken place in the States with reference to the Bill now before the House, and with the exception of some five or six of the representatives, who have shown themselves anxious for, and made a motion in the States with regard to, that reform which is contained in the Bill, the States have shown that they set themselves entirely against it, and that they are determined not to have any reform whatever. It was only lately that a proposal was made in the States to separate the judicial and legislative powers vested in the Jurats, and it was negatived by an immense majority. In point of fact, they would not take it into consideration; and, therefore, hon. Members will see that it is impossible to expect that the States of Jersey will make any attempt at all for the reformation of the Royal Court and of the laws of the Island. At all events, that is the opinion to which a vast portion of the inhabitants of Jersey have at last come. As I stated, they are extremely reluctant that Great Britain should legislate for them, and they sent up a petition to the Queen in Council, asking her to do that which is embodied in the Bill, and many signed that petition who are now ready to sign this, and some of them have done it. There was a strong feeling against the interference of this House, but that feeling has since then been changed. I presented yesterday to this House two petitions from inhabitants of Jersey, to which were attached no less than 3,900 signatures. That was a greater number than was obtained by the States even for the petitions presented against the Bill, and notwithstanding that intimidation of every kind has been used by the persons in authority in Jersey to prevent the people from petitioning this House in favour of the Bill. But in spite of all that, no less than 3,900 signatures have been appended to the petition which I presented yesterday, stating what their grievances were under the present system, and asking this House to pass this Bill to relieve them from the state in which the Royal Court of Jersey has placed them. I think that is a most remarkable circumstance—that the Jersey people, feeling as they do a disinclination to come to this House, because they say they have always been separated from the Imperial Parliament, yet so strongly do they feel the state in which they are placed by reason of the mal-administration of the laws of Jersey through the Royal Court, that they have cast aside scruples on this subject, and have, to the large number of 3,900, petitioned the House to pass this Bill. I think, therefore, that this Bill comes before the House supported by the people of Jersey. They ask for reform; and I feel satisfied of this, that no technical objections which may be taken—none of that old and antiquated feeling—those notions which might have been entertained in former days—will be allowed to weigh with this House, and induce it to reject this Bill. Such being the state of things, just let us consider what ground there can be for refusing to pass the Bill. My hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Rolt) has put a notice on the paper that he intends to move that the States of Jersey be heard by their counsel, and to adduce evidence at the Bar of the House in opposition to the Bill. I suppose he will contend that Parliament cannot legislate for the Island of Jersey. Perhaps he will hardly say that, but that it is unconstitutional for Parliament to do so. Parliament has however, over and over again, legislated for the Island of Jersey. Parliament in the year 1805, upon the Smugglers Act, legislated for the Island of Jersey, and precisely the same objection which my hon. Friend says he is going to make on the present occasion was made then. It was, however, overruled both in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords, the Bill passed, and I believe it is the law of the land at the present moment. I know my hon. and learned Friend's ingenuity and power, but he cannot erase that Act of Parliament from the statute-book; nor can he get rid of the report in Hansard in the year 1805, when the same objection was made and entirely overruled. Well now, upon what grounds will the House refuse to legislate for the Island of Jersey? These persons forming the Court choose to adopt a certain course and say, "Oh, we may do as we like with our own." But has not every Englishman, Irishman, and Scotchman a right to go to Jersey? Do they not go in large numbers to Jersey? Is not a great proportion of the population of Jersey either English, Irish, or Scotch; and do they not tend very much to the wealth and advantage of that Island? Well, are they to submit to be governed by those barbarous laws? Are they to submit to have a tribunal like that in Jersey which, as I understand, makes a distinction between Jerseymen and other people, which exercises an influence which no Judge in any other land has a right to exercise? They have no right to be armed as legislators of the States and likewise as Judges. They perform all these duties together in this small Island, where everybody is at their beck and call, and instead of their duties being separated, they are all mixed up together, so that it is utterly impossible to make them attend to any of them properly. At all events, they have no time to perform their duties as Judges. But now it is a somewhat remarkable fact that many of these very men, these Jurats, who, before they were Jurats, thought rightly and thought properly, on becoming Jurats seem to have taken leave of their senses. I may also mention one hon. Gentleman, named Mr. Francis Godfray, who has been sent by the States to this country to stir up hon. Members in this House, and to induce them to oppose this Bill; what did he do? When he was examined before the Royal Commissioners, a gentleman writes me a letter to tell me what occurred. The gentleman who writes this letter says that although he cannot sign a petition to the House of Commons in favour of the Bill, for he does not like the interference of the British Parliament in the affairs of the Island of Jersey, still he cannot allow Mr. Godfray, who has come over to Eng- land for the purpose of inducing people to oppose this Bill, to do this without telling what occurred when he was examined before the Commissioners. And about this there is no question. The letter which this gentleman has addressed to me is dated the 6th of May in the present year, and he says he is opposed to any interference of the British Parliament, but still when a public man, such as Mr. Godfray is, becomes inconsistent, he considers it to be his duty to expose that person, especially when such a man is a member of the States, and one of the deputies appointed to the British Parliament to induce them not to pass this Bill. The Commissioners sat in 1846, and the proceedings were published in 1847. It was an inquiry into the state of the criminal law of the Channel Islands, and in pages 211 to 214 of the Report it will be found that when Mr. Godfray was examined, he then said he was in favour of reforming the constitution of the present Royal Court. In reply to one question he said, "I am decidedly of opinion that the Court is badly constituted," and having explained to the Commissioners the evils of the present, system, Mr. Godfray says— I proposed a change in the institutions of the Island. I proposed, with the concurrence of the majority of the States, to do away with the twelve Jurats, and replace them by two Judges, elected by the people, but that these two Judges must be qualified, as having been lawyers of long practice. That was the principal feature of the change. Now this was the change Mr. Godfray then proposed, and that is substantially what is now proposed to be done by this Bill. The only difference is that he says the two Judges were to be elected by the people and were to be of long standing and practice. He proposed that the twelve Jurats were to be done away with, and so does this Bill. The fact is this Bill and Mr. Francis Godfray's former opinions entirely coincide. I have here in my hand a host of opinions which were expressed by Jersey lawyers at that time against the system, and setting out what changes ought to be made, but I will not trouble the House with them. I think when I have mentioned Mr. Godfray, who is sent over by the States as their deputy and agent for the purpose of preventing this Bill passing, I do not think I could instance a better person than he is. Mr. Godfray has come over here to do what I have stated, and he is a member of the States, and expresses their opinions. I have stated the Report which the Commissioners came to, and the recommendations which they make. They were extremely simple, and they recommended that this should form the basis of the alteration of the Court of Jersey, and I have not heard anybody state that they have an objection to this Bill, with the exception of the hon. Member for Harwich (Captain Jervis). He has certainly put a Motion on the paper, and objects to the form of the Bill and the enactments in it, while the objection which the hon. Member for Gloucestershire makes is, that the House ought not to legislate upon the subject. But it is admitted that the House has the power, if it pleases, to legislate; and, as to the Bill itself, that it is a right measure, and that it is an improved and proper one, and that these Jurats shall not be allowed to exist any longer. I have only heard one single exception to the Bill itself, and that is, as I have already stated, the Amendment of which the hon. Member for Harwich has given notice. His proposal is to strike out Clause 15. Now, if you strike that clause out, you will find you will not have any money to pay the Judges, and he thinks that without money to pay the Judges, in all probability there will be none. And that is a sailor-like way of looking at the thing, and no doubt a very sensible one; but still at the same time, when we get into Committee on the Bill, I think I shall be able to meet that difficulty, and to accommodate the hon. Member for Harwich. But let us go into Committee on the Bill. Do not let us be led away. I trust the House will not be led away by any sophistry, causing them to suppose that they have no power to legislate. It is admitted on all hands we have the right and power, and have exercised that power before on numerous occasions. As well might it be said that the writ of Habeas Corpus does not extend to the Channel Islands, because they once did think that they could seize British subjects, and do as they pleased with them. But the Courts of Law settled that matter, and I trust this House will settle this matter, and will not allow the States of Jersey, who are ruling over English subjects as well as their own, to say they will uphold a Court like this. Two Commissions, of 1846 and of 1859, both treated it entirely as a nuisance which ought to be abated; and I trust the House, whatever my learned Friend urges on this matter, will be true to itself, and extend to Jersey those privileges which we enjoy, namely, a proper code of laws and a proper court of justice.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Locke.)


Sir, I stated yesterday in answer to a Question put to me, that I would to-day intimate the course which the Government thought ought to be taken in regard to this Bill. The House will recollect that upon the second reading I expressed my entire concurrence in the object which this Bill sought to attain—the reformation of the Royal Court of Jersey. I stated that the Report of the Royal Commission had shown that there are great defects in the administration of justice in Jersey, arising out of the constitution and forms of procedure in that Court, and that the Commissioners had pointed out those reforms which they thought essential to the due administration of justice in Jersey. But I said at the same time that so long as there was any hope that these reforms would be carried into effect by the States of Jersey themselves, it was inexpedient that Parliament should interfere. A Bill was brought in by the present Mr. Baron Pigott; but it was objected to on the ground that the Report of the Royal Commission had been so short a time before the States that it was desirable to give them ample time to consider the reforms which it pointed out. On that occasion the right of Parliament to interfere was most distinctly affirmed. There can be no doubt that Parliament can interfere in case these reforms cannot be carried into effect in any other manner. The correspondence which has been laid on the table since the Bill was introduced, will show how the matter at present stands. The States in their last communication have declined to entertain the questions referred to them by the Lieutenant Governor. They have done so on the ground that to proceed to take into consideration the suggestions of the Commission and the recommendations of the Lieutenant Governor while this Bill was pending, would imply that they are acting under the coercion which might be supposed to be placed upon them by this measure. In answer to that, I informed them that if it was really intended to take up this question, and that if this Bill was the only obstacle to an entering into the consideration of these reforms—that, if this Bill was withdrawn and legislation by Parliament postponed, they really resolved to carry out themselves the suggestions made to them by the Commission—I should be sorry by further supporting this measure to put any obstacles in the way of their considering these questions. I have had no answer to that communication. But, at the same time, I think it desirable to proceed in this matter with due care and deliberation, and that we should still even avoid the semblance of depriving the States of Jersey of dealing with their own institutions, and of carrying the reforms suggested into effect, if they should see fit to do so. Under these circumstances, and in the spirit of my letter to the Lieutenant Governor, I express my hope—and I trust the House will agree with me in the expediency of that course—that my hon. Friend will not proceed with the Bill in the present Session. As I have already stated, I think Parliament has a perfect right to interfere; and if, during the interval, those reforms which are essential to the administration of justice in Jersey are not carried into effect, I do not think the Government can offer any obstacle during a future Session to the progress of a Bill of this kind. I do not mean to say that the Government approves of the Bill in all its details, but of a Bill the object of which is the reformation of the Royal Court of Jersey. I believe that there is a growing feeling in the Island itself not only in favour of these reforms, but in favour of the intervention of Parliament to give them effect—owing to the indisposition of the States to undertake them. I cannot help thinking that with the pressure put upon the States by the recommendations of the Royal Commissioners, and by the growing opinion in Jersey in favour of these reforms, they will hardly place themselves in opposition to public opinion, and refuse to act upon the suggestions which have been addressed to them. In their last communication I understand them to say they are not opposed to these recommendations, and are not disposed to object to the views which are entertained by the Government. Under these circumstances, I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will not press the Bill, and that it will not be necessary for the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Paull) to make his Motion. I trust that the result will be that this alleged obstacle to the consideration of these reforms being removed, the States will fairly undertake the consideration of the recommendations of the Commissioners and the Lieutenant Governor, and that before another Session some Act will have been passed which will carry into effect the reforms so much desired.


hoped his hon. and learned Friend would withdraw the Bill, but on the distinct understanding that it was the opinion of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State that that House had full right and power to interfere in the affairs of Jersey, and that if something was not done by the States before the beginning of next Session he would, should he be in office, be prepared to lay on the table a Bill for reforming the Royal Court.


I have undertaken to make the Motion of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Gloucester shire (Mr. Rolt) who is unable to be present, and the reason why he intended to submit that Motion was that the States of Jersey are entirely misrepresented in this matter. The statement which was made by my hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Locke) as to the appointment of the Commission, and the proceedings which took place under that Commission, is perfectly correct. The States are quite willing to consider these recommendations, but they are not willing that the Royal Court, which has existed for so many hundred years, should be abolished entirely in the way which it is now proposed to do. They protest against a question of this kind being taken up by any private Member of Parliament. They find that, although the Royal Commission was issued at the recommendation of the Government, and that these Commissioners have visited the Islands, and have received information from those most competent to judge, the question has not been taken up by Government as might reasonably have been expected, and as I think the House will say they ought to have done. If pressure is indirectly to be brought on the Island of Jersey—if the Government are content to leave a measure which they are disposed to support in the hands of a private Member—if, under these circumstances, the authorities of the Island, who ought to be represented in this House by the Government, are left to be bandied about the lobby, to take up their position in some hotel and to issue circulars to endeavour to secure the attention of Members of Parliament to their views, I say that nothing can be more unfitting and impolitic than that an Island which is not a conquered country, but is one of the most ancient and loyal dependencies of the British Crown, should be treated in this manner. For ages, peace, loyalty, and harmony have existed there, more, perhaps, than in any other portion of the British dominions. They have long enjoyed a distinct judicature and a distinct legislature. In every case in which Bills of Parliament have been passed for England and extending to Jersey, that legislation has not taken effect immediately in these Islands. The Acts have been referred to the Legislature of Jersey, and have been, in some instances with Amendments, registered, and have thereby become the law of the Island. The long address which has been delivered by my hon. and learned Friend precludes me from going into this case as I would wish to do. But I may say that the people of Jersey do not desire this Bill to be withdrawn. They join issue with the hon. and learned Gentleman, and they rely on making their case good before the House. They say that they are still ready to make reforms and to receive the recommendations of the Imperial Government; but they are not disposed to submit to allow their internal and domestic institutions to be dealt with in the way that this Bill proposes to deal with them. You are proposing by this Bill to appoint paid Judges and to dispose of taxation, which you are not empowered to deal with. I think the House will be of opinion that when the right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Grey) talks of great care and deliberation, there has been a great want of care and deliberation on the part of the Home Office. It is greatly owing to him that matters have been brought to their present position, and that the Gentlemen representing these Islands have been obliged to attend here from day to day. They only knew of the second reading of this Bill in time to be here the day before it came on; and consequently they were not able to organize an opposition. They received no such assistance and protection as they might have expected from the Home Office; and have had to go from one Member to another. They have retained an eminent counsel to appear before the House, and they are perfectly prepared to join issue with the hon. Gentleman. I myself have no interest in the matter, nor do I know all the merits of the case; but feeling that Parliament has no right to deal in this offhand manner with institutions that have existed so long, I myself should be disposed to protest against the withdrawal of the Bill, and to insist that the States should be heard by their Counsel at the Bar of this House, and should have an opportunity of refuting the allegations which have been made against them so recklessly by the hon. and learned Gentleman. I know that at this period of the Session it will be extremely difficult to find a day on which the House could hear the counsel of the States at the Bar, and certainly that is the only ground on which I could agree to the withdrawal of the Bill.

MR. AYRTON moved the adjournment of the debate till to-morrow.

Debate adjourned till To-morrow.