What is the structure of the Jersey Courts?
The Bailiwick of Jersey is a Crown dependency, situated within the Channel Islands. It is not a part of the United Kingdom and has a separate legal system and political structure. However the Crown does have certain responsibilities to Jersey, including ratification of legislation and defence. Whilst it is not part of the EU, it is treated as part of the European Community for the purposes of trade. The legal system of Jersey is fairly unique as it has been affected by both the English and French legal systems, although the working language has been English for over 50 years.
Magistrate’s Court: Deals with a large percentage of criminal matters, with limited sentencing powers. This is recognisably similar to the England and Wales Magistrate’s Court, since the Court is duty bound to refer onwards any cases which are beyond its scope. However magistrates in Jersey are legally trained which is different to the England and Wales system of using volunteers from the community.
Youth Court: This has the same sentencing powers and jurisdiction as the Magistrate’s Court but deals exclusively with defendants under the age of 18. There are similar protections to the England and Wales Youth Courts – for example the bench must include one woman and there are restrictions on who can be present at the hearing.
Petty Debts Court: Started in 1853, this deals with civil matters below £10,000 as well as Landlord and tenant issues. This Court also deal with matters resolved by mediation.
Royal Court: The principal court, this has jurisdiction both over the appeals from the lower courts as well as many first instance issues. The Chief Justice of the Court is known as the Bailiff and the Clerk of the Court is known as the Judicial Greffier. There are four divisions of the Royal Court:
- Héritage: Deals with real property such as land disputes or cases of intestacy.
- Family: As in England and Wales, this division deals with divorce, nullity and civil proceedings relating to children.
- Probate: Administrative and Probate decisions, including all areas of testamentary cause.
- Samedi: All matters not covered by the other three jurisdictions. The name comes from the French word for Saturday, which is when this division used to sit – though it now sits on a Friday the name remains unchanged. This division will therefore deal with Civil and Criminal matters. Generally the Court will deal with public business such as criminal indictments in the morning. In the afternoon, they will hear private business such as contract law.
Generally the Court will be made up of a Judge and two Jurats, who assist in determining the facts and the sentence. This will be the case for civil cases as well as certain criminal cases. However, for serious criminal matters the Court will sit with a jury to determine the facts.
Court of Appeal: The final domestic appellate Court, this Court hears appeals from all of the Royal Court divisions, meeting six times a year. Generally these will be issues of law rather than fact, although in some circumstances criminal matters may arise on an appeal basis.
Privy Council: Constitutionally the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is the Court of Final appeal for Jersey. Whilst not a regular occurrence, matters of law may be pursued to this level. However special permission is required from the Privy Council.