Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

royal assent to which was communicated on the 26th of December last. To render the explanation as clear as possible, we will first exhibit the judicial and legislative authorities assembled; and afterwards explain the mode of their appointment. Will the reader imagine himself crossing the hall of a substantial building, and entering, not at either end but by the side, a moderate sized room ? Fine portraits of Sir John Doyle and Lord Seaton, and full length portraits of Lord de Saumarez, and the late eminent bailiff, Daniel De Lisle Brock, Esq., adorn the walls. The room itself is plain, and yet wears an air of thorough respectability. To the left of the visitor, as he enters, there rise from the floor, seats for perhaps two hundred people. At his right there are also seats arranged for official persons. This is the court-house, where justice is administered. It is also the parliament house. Suppose the proceedings to be judicial. At his right, the visitor observes on a raised and distinguished seat the bailiff, who is the highest civil functionary on the island, and has a salary of £300 a year. On the right and left of the bailiff are other gentlemen, not less than seven; if all are present, twelve. These are called jurats. Together with the bailiff, they act in all important civil and criminal causes, as both judge and jury: and from their decision there is no appeal excepting to the queen in council. Below the bailiff and jurats, and at their right hand, is the attorney-general, who has a salary of £200 yearly: at their left and before them, are seats for the advocates and others connected with the causes tried. Such is the court of justice. The proceedings are carried on in the French language, but witnesses are examined in English, if they speak it. The jurats listen to the pleadings and the evidence; question the witmesses if they think it necessary; and when the trial is completed, give their verdict, aloud, one by one, generally assigning the reasons for it. The bailiff commonly gives a summary of the cause; and then pronounces the opinion of the majority of the jurats, which is the sentence of the court. If there be an equality of votes, the bailiff has a casting vote. There is no display in the court house, Neither counsel morjudges wear any official dress. The proceedings are marked by much less technicality, and much more common sense, than our own courts of justice. May this people ever beware of apeing the follies of their neighbours, and retain their own dignified simF. ! For it they are pre-eminent. Should they ever stoop to ecome imitators, they can never get beyond an humble mimicry of that which is useless and effeminate in the customs of England. Enter the same place when the legislature, or “ States of Deliberation,” are assembled: and, if all the members be present, there are the bailiff, the twelve jurats, eight rectors of parishes, the attorney-general, six deputies of St. Peter's Port, and nine deputies from the other parishes : in all thirty-seven. That is the parliament. In cases where a question is not decided by two-thirds of the members present, the president (the bailiff) may, if he think fit, submit it a second time, within one month, when it is decided by a majority of votes. By this body the general affairs of the island, including its taxation, are managed. Its proceedings are public by sufferance. The military governor-of whom more will be said hereafter-has a right to be present and speak, but not to vote. The relation of this local legislature to the British parliament, has given rise to some serious difficulties; and would, but for the spirit of the inhabitants, and their ancient and cherished charters, have sunk the people into thorough dependence and beggary.

It will be observed that the bailiff, jurats, and attorneygeneral, are functionaries both in the judicial court and in the legislature. When they sit as legislators, they are joined by eight clergymen and fifteen deputies. The bailiff and attorneygeneral are appointed by the crown; which appointment, however, is commonly a formal way of executing the wish of the Guernsey authorities. The clergymen sit in the parliament ex officio. The other members are appointed by the people as follows. The rate-payers in the parish choose persons to manage their parochial affairs. These persons elect the deputies in the several parishes. When a jurat dies, the bailiff, the surviving jurats, the attorney-general, the eight clergymen, and all the parochial authorities, form one elective body, for appointing his successor. The appointment is for life, the yearly fees are not more than £15, and the person elected must serve, under pain of imprisonment or expatriation. Every map in Guernsey is bound to serve his country when called upon to do so by the public voice. The same elective body appoints the sheriff, to whose office there is annexed a salary of uncertain amount. The entire number of electors is 222; but it will be borne in mind that they never act as a body, excepting in the choice of a jurat or sheriff.

The mode of electing the deputies requires and deserves a little further explanation. In each of the country parishes, the rate-payers choose yearly two constables. The same parties choose also other officers called douzeniers, the number of the latter being generally twelve. They are chosen for life: their service is compulsory and without pay. No one is qualified for the office who has not been constable. These constables and douzeniers regulate the parochial assessments. In the collection of such taxes as are levied on property, they occupy the place of the income-tax commissioners in England, and their task is usually an easy one. They also attend to the streets, roads, boundaries, drainage, &c. In short, they are a sort of corporation in each parish; the senior constable being the chairman of their meetings. By the recent Reform Bill, the populous and wealthy parish of St. Peter's Port is to have five such corporate bodies; but the parochial authority is to remain almost exclusively with one of the five. The number, then, of these corporations—so we may call them—is fourteen; namely, one for each of the country parishes, and five for the town. Of these, one sends two deputies to the legislature; the remaining thirteen return one deputy each. The election is for one session only, there being several sessions during the year. Every man in Guernsey, unless in very special cases of exemption, is trained to arms; and is thus prepared in case of invasion, to defend his rock-bound home. The island is also protected by the dangerous navigation of the surrounding seas —the danger arising both from the rocks and the currents. None but practised and skilful seamen can venture there. If the reader should ever pass from Guernsey to Sark in the meat little cutter which runs between those places daily, he may have an opportunity of admiring the style in which she is made to thread a triangle of rocks, where but for the turn of the helm at the right instant, the vessel must inevitably strike. The English government, however, deeming the island both important and insecure from its proximity to France, has planted cannon all round it, but from their small calibre and short range they would at present prove totally inefficient. On the heights above the town there is an extensive and strong fortification, which cost, certainly more than £200,000, and, we have been told, more than half a million sterling. A military governor—now General W. F. Napier—resides on the island, and the garrison is entirely under his control. He has also the regulation of the island militia, which, during the last war, was very effective. Sir John Doyle said, that with it alone, he would undertake to defend the island against any attack of the French. The garrison expenses, including the erection of the works, are borne by that pay-master general, John Bull. The military governor is the patron of all the church livings. The mischievous custom of primogeniture and entail, as existing in England, is, in Guernsey, unknown; and the law verges, to say the least, towards a contrary extreme. The owner of landed property may sell it at any'time; but, if he have children, he cannot bequeath it. The law divides it among all his children, giving however some advantage to the eldest son. In consequence of this arrangement, there are no large landed estates, and scarcely any tenants, but a great number of small and independent proprietors. It is delightful to witness the sturdy and dignified manhood of the little cultivators of Guernsey, as contrasted with the servility of too many of the yeomanry of England. The late bailiff, Mr. Brock—one of the most enlightened politicians of modern times—strongly recommended a similar plan of partition, as a panacea for the evils of Ireland. The testimony of such a man, whose views were founded on the experience of three quarters of a century, is weighty. His arguments are clear and conclusive; and may be seen in Mr. Duncan's volume, page 307.

The taxation of Guernsey is very light. It may be quickly explained under two heads:—first, the parochial taxation; and secondly, the taxation for the general purposes of government.

The parochial taxation is raised in each parish by the corporation already described, having been previously voted by a general meeting of the rate-payers. It is a property tax. In the country parishes no one is charged with this tax, who has not possessions worth £100. In the town, taxation commences with those who are worth £200. All kinds of property are included in the calculation, even household furniture. This tax amounts to about 3s. 4d. per cent. per annum; and by it provision is made for the poor, and for all other parochial expenses, such as lighting, public pumps, &c. It is humiliating to be compelled to add, that no inconsiderable part of this burden is imposed on the people of Guernsey by the United Kingdom. Mr. Brock, writing in 1840 to Lord Normanby, said:—

‘Out of 261 inmates (in the town workhouse) 109 are strangers, or born of strangers, almost all of whom are English, Scotch, or Irish, whereasin all England, it would be difficult to find a single Guernsey pauper.'

The expenses of the general government are defrayed by publicans’ licences, a duty of 1s: a gallon on spirits, and the harbour dues; which together suffice for the payment of salaries, for keeping in repair the excellent roads of the island without any turnpike gates, for coast defences against the inroads of the sea, for public buildings, harbours, &c. The revenue amounts to about £7,500. Should it at any time prove insufficient, the States have the power, by a vote of two-thirds of their number, of levying a small property tax, which would be collected in the same way as the parochial property tax.

The Channel Islands, it will be seen, are free from the intolerable burdens and annoyances of English taxation. There are no custom-house officers to vex the traveller, no excisemen to intrude upon the tradesman: there is no long array of tax

gatherers, no host of well paid commissioners. There are no indirect taxes stealthily filching from the purchaser a large part of every shilling he expends. Tenpence is the regular price for three pounds of good moist sugar, excellent coffee is sold for 10d. or ls. the pound, and good tea at 2s. 5d. And even from these prices a considerable reduction is to be made. The pound weight is more than 17 oz. of our standard, making a difference of 83 per cent.; and English money is always at a considerable premium. These two causes reduce the tea quoted at 2s. 5d. to 2s. English, and other articlesin proportion. The islands have repeatedly been troubled by the intermeddling of the British Parliament or Ministry: and well do these parts of their history exemplify the words of Solomon: ‘wisdom is a defence.’ When England was attempting by the legerdemain of an act of parliament to make a pound note and a shilling worth a guinea, though, de facto, a guinea would buy a pound note and six shillings, the Guernseymen saw no mystery in the currency question, but very wisely determined to say their money was worth, what every body knew it was really worth. Accordingly, in 1811, and again in 1812, the merchants under the presidency of Mr. Brock, unanimously resolved to raise the denominative value of the coin then current among them; and by this natural expedient, they prevented what would otherwise have inevitably followed, the disappearance of a metallic currency from the island. In 1836 Sir. R. Peel intimated an intention of introducing the British currency into the Channel Islands. Mr. Brock, in a letter relating to this proposal, touched the general question of the currency with the hand of a master, shewed the ruinous consequences of Sir R. Peel's measure in England, and assigned various special reasons why the contemplated change could not be made in Guernsey: and the affair dropped. In 1821 an act, of which the islanders had no notice, received the royal assent, closing the ports of the Channel Islands against wheat, when it was under 80s in England. This was quite a new thing to people accustomed to have their ports open to the productions of all the world, duty free: and the effect of the measure would have been to raise the price of wheat (as often as the price in England was under 80s) to more than double the price for which, after a good harvest, it sells in the islands: and this too among a people dependent, to a great extent, on foreign growth for their very existence. “Is it possible,” asked Mr. Brock, ‘that any intention should exist to take away the very means of our subsistence?” He came over to England together with one of the jurats, to remonstrate, and the obnoxious clause was repealed the next session. In 1834 the agriculturalists of the West of England complained that foreign corn was smuggled

« ZurückWeiter »