6th December 1951

Who owns Minquiers, Britain asks International Court

Britain and France had long been in disagreement over who owned the islands, just off Jersey, that made up the Minquiers and Ecrehous. The dispute most often came to a head when fishermen from one side or the other staked a claim to a particular piece of rock, sometimes pulling down flags put up by their rivals.

As The Times reported on 10 September 1953, at which point the case was still waiting to be heard, “while Jersey fishermen do not now fish the reefs as extensively as before the war, they contend that this is because of over-fishing which they allege against French poachers, who, they say, take everything without regard to the regulations as to size. In consequence the Jersey fishing fleet has continually dwindled as the years have passed.”

Britain heads to the International Court

In the hopes of putting the issue to bed once and for all, Britain asked the International Court at The Hague to rule on the matter, as was decided should be the case after an amicable meeting between the British and French governments the previous year. It seems, looking back, that neither country’s legal or political representatives was greatly worried which way the court would decide: they were more interested in saving themselves the trouble of dealing with their respective fishing fleets.

The court was notified of the case on 6 December 1951, and it ran… and ran… and ran… The hearings finally got underway in September 1953 with the British side initially pointing out that the Channel Islands only became a possession of the English throne through an act of aggression on the part of France when William (the Conqueror) invaded in 1066. Ownership was all but confirmed when the Channel Islands were forced to side with either King John of England or King Philip of France in 1204 and chose King John.

France’s claim

However, the French argued that not only were the islands geographically French, but Ecrehous had been granted to the Abbey of Val Richer the year before Jersey had sworn its continued allegiance to the British crown.

Ultimately, the French arguments failed and the International Court of Justice upheld the British claim in a judgement passed on 17 November 1953. In part, the judgement was based on the 1066 invasion and the fidelity of 1204, but the court also cited the fact that Jersey had administered both the Ecrehous and Minquiers faithfully over the years, which France had not.


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Other events that occured in December