Saturday, 25 April 2009

More Jersey Law and Disorder

So after 800 years of legal isolation since 1204 – we can now study Jersey law in a “properly structured” course with tutors and we don’t have to be employed by Jersey lawyers.

Not only is this an educational “breakthrough” but it also marks the beginning of the end of the Jersey lawyers’ discriminatory monopoly so far as entry to the profession is concerned. Until now, the only way to become a Jersey lawyer has been if your face fits and provided that you could gain employment – and pupilage - within an existing lawyer’s office. Thus, political dissidents have been effectively kept out of the profession and the Victoria College based bastion of privilege has latterly prevailed.

Historically of course, the Bailiff had total control over the profession and the number of Advocates was restricted to just 6 but that limitation was removed (there are now about 250) as was the more recent but temporary and elitist requirement to study at Caen University ( like Guernsey lawyers still must).

Now, the suggested cost at about £10,000 for the privately organized 2 years training course will still ensure that many are excluded and it is not yet certain whether financial assistance will be available and how many places will be on offer etc etc – and it was significant that the Bailiff was interviewed on the radio rather than the Minister for Education to announce the scheme.
Whether the training will finally be offered as a full degree course at Highlands was not yet confirmed either but in those days when Senator (Jersey solicitor) Jeune was President of Education he opposed any Jersey law courses being offered at Highlands and at least one new Head of the Commercial Section received a rap on the knuckles when he suggested it.

Subsequent requests to provide training at Highlands were also resisted and a course in the History of Jersey Law and Constitution as “Our Norman Heritage” was the nearest that was permitted, taught by a renegade Guernsey born English Barrister and Law Lecturer ( and now senior Guernsey Advocate). He wanted to publish his course notes in book form so that others might study his teachings but even that was resisted by the Jersey Law establishment. It was not a question of cost – just a resistance to losing control over access to the knowledge!

For a while Advocates Lakeman and Kelleher offered a short introductory course at Highlands College in Jersey Law but without any examination structure their useful little venture was of limited professional value.

Le Quesne’s Report on Jersey law and Legal Services put forward the abolition of Jersey law and the adoption of another system – presumably English law – in its place and that suggestion received a particularly cold response from Jersey lawyers. But the obscurity of the Jersey system, the lack of text books and training, the ever increasing dominance of others law precedents from the EU and other jurisdictions – all seem to be factors that would ensure the death of Jersey law sooner or later.

So, it is especially significant that Bailiff Pip Bailhache should be able to announce this training initiative just prior to his retirement because it fits in with the “Independent Jersey” agenda very nicely.

Without some form of structure in place to preserve and promote the unique Jersey Law alongside the Jersey Language, the Flag and the sacred Jersey Cow, spud and Wonder an independent Jersey would be a particularly vulnerable entity in a competitive world.

As usual, it’s the preservation of the Finance Business rather than the need to make knowledge generally available that has really inspired this latest move and Pip was anxious to stress that the new course would be available to those employed in that business just as much as those employed in lawyers offices.
It was noteworthy that he did not dwell upon the need to train lawyers to promote social equality or human rights because such concepts are not at the top of his list of priorities and they hardly feature in traditional Jersey law either.

Whether Pip intends to devote his looming retirement to writing the Jersey Law text books that the new course will demand is something we must wait to discover but the Jersey Law Encyclopedia that former Solicitor General Stephanie Nichols had long promised has not yet landed on the library shelves.

Presumably, access to the secret tomes and words of legal wisdom will still only be available to those that can be trusted with them and Jersey Lawyers, led by the Bailiff will still maintain their control over their exclusive professional monopoly – but this little chink is significant and could lead to greater reforms in due course.

Submitted by Thomas Wellard.


TonyTheProf said...

There is a published (private) book available on the sources of Jersey law from the Library by Stephanie Nicholle, former solicitor general, which is a good introduction to the arcane facets of Jersey law and its Norman background; some cases are also cited as examples.

Anonymous said...