4th June 2014

Jersey re-thinks its laws on treason

Although it has long been possible to be arrested for treason in Jersey, the island didn’t have the right to try anyone for the crime until 2014. Before then, treason cases were referred to the mainland where they were heard by the Privy Council, as it was the only crime on which the Royal Court couldn’t pass judgement.

A long overdue reform

A report lodged by the Chief Minister, Ian Gorst, in advance of the States’ debate on the matter noted, “the plenary jurisdiction of the Royal Court to hear charges of criminal offences committed in Jersey was affirmed by Orders in Council of Henry VII of 1494 and 1495, except that the Order in Council of 1495 specifically provided that, whilst a person could be arrested on suspicion of treason and held on the order of at least two Jurats, the actual trial of the accused on such a charge was to be reserved exclusively to the King in Council.”

Changes to the legal situation in both Jersey and the mainland over the intervening 560 years had made this position untenable, since any investigation into a commission of treason would have to be made in accordance with Jersey law before an arrest could be made, but a trial would be conducted under the law of England and Wales, which might not consider the matter in exactly the same terms. Furthermore, Guernsey’s courts already had the right to hear cases of treason themselves without sending them to the mainland.

The States was debating island matters

In effect, the States was debating not so much what treason was or whether it should be illegal, but whether it should be allowed to remove the restriction on its own courts trying Jersey residents for its commission. It was a tidying-up exercise. Naturally, if it should be adopted, Jersey would also need to specify what the penalty was for treason, which was set at life imprisonment. That same punishment had been applicable on the mainland since 1998, before which anyone convicted of treason would have been hung, drawn and quartered.

What is treason? As the BBC described it in 2008, “you can’t kill, conspire against or wage war against the king and his family. You also can’t have sex with his wife, heir’s wife or his unmarried eldest daughter”.

When voted on in the States, the law change was approved, with 35 votes in favour and five against.


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