Although the earliest existence of a Court building in Guernsey is unclear, the first reference to it dates back to the 12th Century, when medieval documents show that the Royal Court met in a building in St Peter Port in a district known as La Plaiderie (literally translated as the place of pleading).
Following the outbreak of the Civil War, the Court was relocated to Elizabeth College to put it out of the range of the Royalist bombings from Castle Cornet. After the war ended, the Court returned to the building at La Plaiderie, although this was less than satisfactory, as the building was also used as a store for the Governor for dues paid to the Crown in the form of grain.
Records show that, in 1766, the States of Guernsey met to discuss the matter as the building was said to be in a dangerous condition. The States resolved to apply £700 towards the renovation.
The building was not, however, large enough to meet the needs of the Court. Indeed, the States noted in 1792 that it was necessary for the Greffiers (clerks of the Court) to keep the public records at their own houses due to lack of space at the Court.
It was resolved to seek permission from the Crown to sell the old Court property to help finance the purchase of a plot of land and construction of a new building. Funds were also provided from other revenues, including a lottery. The land deemed suitable for the new Court was situated in Rue du Manoir and was owned by the then Bailiff, William Le Marchant, and in November 1792 the site was purchased and building work commenced.
The stone on the pediment of the current Royal Court building bears the legend "GIIIR 1799" recording the fact that the façade was completed in that year of the reign of King George III. It took several years for the building to be completed and records from the time appear to indicate that the first sitting of the new Court took place on 17th January, 1803.
By 1821, the building had been outgrown again and the States agreed to a further purchase of land behind the building to enable expansion of the existing rooms and the construction of an upstairs Chamber which could be used by the States for their meetings.
In 1824, the States agreed to purchase more land behind the Court to build stables for the horses of those Jurats who resided in country parishes. By 1876, however, these stables were no longer used and the States agreed that the area should be developed as a fireproof room to house the important public records of the Greffe. There had been concern that, with several open fires being used to heat the buildings, these records were at risk of being damaged or burnt.
There was at this time a concern that prisoners held in the old prison had to be conveyed across the open streets to the Court and it was agreed that property between the Court and the prison should be purchased to allow for a tunnel to be built.
It was not until 1902 that the next stage of development work took place. The original Greffe Strongroom was extended to include a mezzanine floor, reached by a small spiral staircase, still in use today. Further court rooms, offices and a library were also provided.
Over the subsequent years, there were many plans to create a more substantial Chamber for the Royal Court to convene and meetings of the States of Deliberation to be held. However, none of these came to fruition until 1946, when the proposals were revived, resulting in the complete refurbishment of the original first floor Royal Court Chamber. This building is still in use today for meetings of the States, civil court work and ceremonial occasions.
On the northern side of the Court, there remained an undeveloped area. The States decided in 1954 that this should be the site of the new Police Station and the offices for the Law Officers of the Crown. St James Chambers was officially opened on 5th January, 1956.
Demands for space and offices grew steadily and a further extension to the Court was constructed in 1982, providing a third Court room, as well as additional office accommodation.
In 1994, the Police vacated St James Chambers and moved to occupy the former Town Hospital building. This enabled a reorganisation of the cramped facilities and improved access and security for the Courts, with facilities for the disabled.
Find out a little bit more about the Court Buildings today by following this link.