The origins of the legislature of Jersey lie in the system of self-government according to Norman law guaranteed to the Channel Islands by King John following the division of Normandy in 1204. The Assembly of the States of Jersey has exercised uncontested legislative powers since 1771, when the concurrent law-making power of the Royal Court of Jersey was abolished.
The Assembly passes and amends laws and regulations; approves the annual budget and taxation; appoints and removes the Chief Minister, Ministers, presidents and members of committees; debates matters proposed by the Council of Ministers, by Ministers or by individual members. Members are also able to ask questions to find out information and to hold Ministers to account. Executive powers are exercised by a Chief Minister and nine ministers, elected from among the members of the States of Jersey and known collectively as the Council of Ministers. Ministers are accountable to the Assembly for the conduct of their departments.
In the current assembly, elected voting members comprise eight Senators (elected on an island-wide basis), twenty-nine Deputies (elected to represent single- or multi-member constituencies), and twelve Connétables (head of each parish "who are members of the States by virtue of their office"). In previous assemblies, the number of Senators was ten. The reduction in the number of Senators was politically controversial and attempts were made, unsuccessfully, to prevent the Privy Council from approving the proposal.
There are also five non-voting members appointed by the Crown:
Under the States of Jersey Act 2005, 22 of the 51 members form the executive: ten as ministers in the Council of Ministers and twelve as assistant ministers. During the 2008-2011 assembly, 17 members sat on scrutiny panels, six sit only on the Planning Applications panel or the Privileges and Procedures Committee; and seven had no role other than as a member. Following widespread criticisms of the system of ministerial government introduced in December 2005, the assembly of the States of Jersey agreed in March 2011 to establish an independent electoral commission to review the make-up of the assembly and government.
Elections are held every three years, with the most recent being in 2014. In the 2008-2011 assembly, four members were affiliated to the Jersey Democratic Alliance, but three of them subsequently left the party and continued to sit as independents. In the 2011 elections, all candidates stood as independents. In the 2014 elections, candidates stood for the newly formed Reform Jersey for the first time, with 3 being elected as Deputies.
A main type of legislation made by the States is known in English simply as a 'Law', and in French as a Loi (not an 'Act' as in the United Kingdom—in Jersey an Act or Acte of the States is an administrative enactment and may be in the nature of secondary legislation).
Members of the Assembly are responsible for scrutinizing the work of the Council of Ministers, ministers and their departments.
Scrutiny panels of backbench members of the assembly have been established to examine (i) economic affairs, (ii) environment, (iii) corporate services, (iv) education and home affairs and (v) health, social security and housing. The real utility of the panels is said to be "that of independent critique which holds ministers to account and constructively engages with policy which is deficient".
The legislature derives its name from the estates (French: états) of the Crown (represented by the Bailiff and Jurats), the Church (the rectors of the Parishes) and the people (represented by the Connétables) from whom the assembly was originally summoned.
Jersey's political history begins as part of the Duchy of Normandy. However when the King of France stripped King John I of England of the title, Duke of Normandy, the people of Jersey and the other Channel Islands rebelled against the French King maintaining the sovereignty of the 'rightful' Duke.
In 1259 Henry III signed the Treaty of Paris resigning his claim to the Duchy of Normandy except the Channel Islands. The Channel Islands were not absorbed into the Kingdom of England but two offices were appointed; Warden (now Lieutenant Governor) and Bailiff.
Originally the Royal Court had legislative power but by the sixteenth century a legislative assembly within the Royal Court was convened. The Royal Court and the States both legislated until with the fixing in 1771 of the Code des Lois it was established that the States had a legislative monopoly.
The earliest extant Act of the States dates from 1524. The States are mentioned in a document of 1497 regarding the endowments of the grammar schools; by 1526 attendance by members at the assembly was evidently a requirement, as in that year the Rector of Saint Mary was fined for failure to attend.
In the early seventeenth century separate minutes of the States of Jersey were first recorded.
When the monarchy was restored, King Charles II who had escaped to Jersey on his way to exile in France rewarded Jersey with the power to levy customs duties. This power, exercised by the Assembly of Governor, Bailiff and Jurats, was finally taken over by the States of Jersey in 1921, thereby enabling the States to control the budget independently of the Lieutenant Governor.
The States voted on 6 November 1856 to adopt a law to add 14 Deputies to the assembly to counterbalance the mismatch of population and voting power between town and country. The first Deputies were elected 12 January 1857.
The first election by secret ballot was held 1 December 1891.
Until the constitutional reforms brought about in 1948 to strengthen the separation between legislature and judiciary, Jurats were the senior politicians, elected for life by islandwide suffrage, and were the presidents of committees and sat in the Royal Court. In 1948 the Jurats were replaced in the legislature by Senators, who at first were elected on an island-wide basis for mandates of 9 years (subsequently reduced to 6 years). The rectors were also removed from the States in 1948 (with the exception of the Dean as Rector of St. Helier, who remained but lost his vote), and replaced by an increased number of Deputies.
The urban-rural cleavage which successive reforms have attempted to address remains. The less populated rural parishes enjoy an electoral advantage over the densely populated urban parishes due to the inequity of the distribution of seats when compared to population.
A report produced under the chairmanship of Sir Cecil Clothier proposed a range of administrative reforms aimed at improving the machinery of government, including ending the distinction between Senators and Deputies, the removal of the Constables from the States and the removal of the Bailiff. Under the proposals, all members would have the title Member of the States of Jersey (MSJ) but this was rejected. However aspects of the report, especially concerning the rôle of Connétable, met with intense opposition at public meetings in the parishes. The ministerial system has been introduced in an amended form to that proposed by Clothier.
The system of executive government was changed significantly by the States of Jersey Law 2005.
The States sat in the Royal Court until 1887 when the States Chamber was constructed adjacent to the Royal Court. The chamber is in Jacobean style, with the benches arranged in horseshoe form around the twin seats of the Bailiff and Lieutenant Governor. The Bailiff's seat is raised slightly higher than that of the Lieutenant Governor to demonstrate his precedence.
Senators sit to the left of the Bailiff, then the Connétables, and then the Deputies filling up the benches to the right.
The States Chamber is depicted on the 2010 issue Jersey 20 pound note.
BBC Radio Jersey broadcasts the main States sittings live on their medium wave frequency 1026 mW in Jersey, replacing the normal BBC Radio Jersey output which is a straight mirror of the FM output.
The raw feed of the States members talking is provided by the States of Jersey and goes through a desk in the BBC Radio Jersey Studio in the States Chamber where it is mixed by the States Reporter on duty that day.
Broadcasting of the States debates began experimentally on 30 September 1986 and was made a permanent feature on 25 November the same year.
Since December 2005 the States of Jersey have released a complete written record of everything that members say during question time, statements and debates in the States Assembly using Hansard, similar to the UK parliament. These transcriptions are available on the States of Jersey website.
On 15 July 2015 the States Assembly voted 31 in favour and 13 against a proposal that cameras would be installed in the States Chamber in order to provide a live and on-demand video stream through the States Assembly web site. The video feed will also be provided to the media.