The Jurats of the Guernsey Royal Court (Jurés-Justiciers de la Cour Royale) are judges of fact.
Jurats are elected by the States of Election, which consists of the members of the States of Deliberation, the Bailiff, the Jurats, representatives of the Island Parishes, and the Rectors of the Parish Churches. Candidates must be nominated by a member of the States of Election or a parish Douzenier. There is no minimum age limit, but they are people of proven ability, ensuring a broad range of skills and experience on the Bench. Candidates must receive greater than one half of the votes of those present at the meeting.
There is no jury system in Guernsey. The Jurats act as a jury, and are judges of fact in both civil and criminal cases. Decisions are reached by a simple majority. Jurats are not interpreters of law; that function is undertaken by the presiding Judge, and Jurats must follow their directions. In criminal cases the senior Jurat present, who acts as Chairman of the Jurats' deliberations, reports their decision to the Court.
In criminal cases, following a determination of guilt and after hearing a plea of mitigation, the Judge retires with the Jurats, and directs them on issues relevant to sentencing. The Jurats fix the sentence, and the Judge returns to the Court with the Jurats to deliver the sentence and give the reasons for their decision.
In civil cases the Judge retires with the Jurats to direct them on the law. After the Jurats have reached a decision the Judge drafts a reasoned judgement and returns to the Court with the Jurats to declare their decision and state the appropriate reasons.
The Jurats have numerous other duties conferred upon them by statute. They comprise the Bench of the Royal Court, sitting both as a Full Court and as an Ordinary Court, including hearing appeals from the Magistrate's Court. They conduct the Contracts Court (which deals with conveyances, bonds, occasional liquor licences, and other matters), and act as Commissioners in saisie, en désastre and compulsory liquidation hearings. They supervise the destruction of Guernsey currency notes, and have a number of other functions.
Four Jurats are appointed Lieutenant-Bailiffs, and have some additional duties, primarily presiding over Contracts Courts.
As members of the Royal Court, Jurats are present at certain ceremonial occasions, including Liberation Day and Remembrance Day. At such occasions, and while sitting on the Bench, they wear purple robes, toques (hats), wing collars and bands.
In the Middle Ages the Jurats (the King's Jurats) formed a bench of "judgement-finders" who declared and interpreted customary law. They pronounced both judgement and sentence. Historically there were twelve Jurats, elected for life.
The first recorded mention of Jurats of the Royal Court was in 1179. The names of Jurats since 1299 are recorded on a Roll of Honour board in the Jurats' Chambers in the Royal Court House.
The Précepte d'Assize of 1441 described the Jurats as "douze hommez dez plus notablez et discres sages loyaulx et riches en la dicte ysle" (twelve most notable, impartial, wise, loyal and rich men of the island). Warburton's Treatise on the History, Laws and Customs of the Island of Guernsey (1682) states that in previous centuries when vacancies occurred on the Jurats bench the inhabitants of the parishes had to elect replacement Jurats and they did so after the church service.
By 1682, however, the Bailiff, Jurats, Ministers, Constables and Douzaines of each parish assembled, and by a majority chose a replacement Jurat. The elected man would be sworn if the Governor had no objection to the individual. They were not entitled to any remuneration, and could only be replaced if they committed a misdemeanour.
The Jurat's oath involves undertakings to maintain 'la République de cette ile' and to uphold its laws, liberties customs and other legal usages, to serve as required in Court, rendering justice to all, great or small, particularly widows and orphans, not to accept bribes and to assist in keeping accurate records. 'La Rėpublique de cette ile' is a phrase which embraces the many elements of Guernsey's system of government, public affairs and community in its widest sense. Guernsey is very much wedded to supporting and upholding 'la République...', and this phrase is also contained in the oath taken by the Law Officers of the Crown.
The Current Position
The Royal Court of Guernsey (Miscellaneous Reforms Provisions) Law, 1950 provided for a retirement age of 70, but with a provision for the Royal Court (Bailiff and Jurats) to extend the retirement until age 75.
The Royal Court (Reform) Law 2008 maintained the retirement age at 70, but any new Jurats elected may continue in office with the approval of the other Jurats until a maximum age of 72 only. It also made provision for the number of Jurats to be increased from 12 to 16, and created the position of 'Juré-Justicier Suppléant'. A Jurat with a minimum of five years experience and over the age of 65 can offer to retire from the Bench and offer himself or herself for election by the other Jurats as a Juré-Justicier Suppléant to serve until the age of 75. A Juré-Justicier Suppléant supplements the other Jurats when necessary. The minimum number of Jurats required to constitute the divisions of the Royal Court (7 for a Full Court, 2 for an Ordinary Court) remain unchanged.
Election as a Jurat is the highest honour that Guernsey can confer on a resident of the Island. They are rightly accorded a special status within the community, and are styled 'Jurat' for the remainder of their lives after they have retired from life on the Bench.
The office of Jurat is an honorary one. There is no salary, but they receive fees for witnessing documents in the Contracts Court and acting as Commissioners. Jurats do not serve in office for the relatively small remuneration they receive, but rather are motivated by a commitment to public service.