Dual roles of Sark's seneschal may be split

Lt Col Reg Guille
Image caption Seneschal Lt Col Guille is both senior judge and president of chief pleas

Sark's Chief Pleas has decided to investigate splitting the dual roles of the seneschal.

The seneschal, the president of Chief Pleas and the island's senior judge, is one of two non-voting hereditary roles in the Sark's government.

Current Seneschal Lt Col Reg Guille has been in the spotlight due to a number of UK court rulings on his dual role.

Opponents of the hereditary offices believe they contravene the European Convention on Human Rights.

These opponents include Sir David and Frederick Barclay, the billionaire twins who live on the neighbouring island of Brecqhou, who in December 2009 lost a Supreme Court appeal case asking for further constitutional reforms on Sark and have since said they would take their case to the European Court of Human Rights.

In April 2008 the Privy Council agreed reforms to Sark's system of government that saw the 450 year old feudal system in which landowners automatically got seats replaced by 28 elected conseillers.

Could be appealed

This new system of government first sat in January 2009.

Conseiller Charles Maitland, the chairman of the General Purposes and Advisory Committee who presented the motion for debate, said he felt the actions of the brothers had forced Sark into the move.

Conseiller Ventris said that there were appeals possible above the senior judge in the island as they could be appealed to Guernsey's court system.

He was worried about the expense of splitting the roles and said that "chasing after human rights had become rather discredited" and cited a few examples.

Conseiller Diane Baker, who used to sit on the Constitution Committee, said the UK weren't helping or supporting them as promised on the issue and she felt "the human rights of Sark residents were being ignored".

She said she "couldn't find herself voting for this one, although I am unable to oppose it as I feel it is inevitable", a sentiment some other members of Sark's government agreed with.

Repercussion for others

In the vote 12 members were in favour, seven against and five abstained, meaning the General Purposes and Advisory Committee was asked to come back with formal proposals for the splitting of the role to the Michaelmas meeting of Chief Pleas in October.

BBC Guernsey's reporter Simon De La Rue was at the meeting and said: "There were many who spoke and I have to say that most of them were speaking in a similar tone.

"There is certainly a feeling that Sark will have to go ahead and split the dual role of the seneschal, but of course the debate at the Michaelmas meeting will be the one that actually decides whether that actually happens."

It was pointed out in the debate, and not for the first time, that any splitting of the role could have repercussions for the bailiffs of Guernsey and Jersey, who have similar roles in their own islands.

Both titles, seneschal and bailiff, have their roots in the island's links with France as both were the titles of men charged with the application of justice and the control of administration in provinces or towns, in northern France called bailli and seneschal in southern France, during the Middle Ages.

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