28 September 2012

Happy Reform Day, Jersey! (28th September 1769)

I reproduce the following post courtesy of Tom Gruchy. Below you will also find a very informative talk given by local historian, Geraint Jennings, on the events of 28 September 1769. The views expressed are theirs.

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 ofJersey 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 theIsland. A new H.M. Lieutenant-Governor was appointed following representations inLondon 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 Islandnever 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 Islandto 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.

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