‘Ancient property laws must be respected despite foreshore gift’

It was recently announced that the Crown would be giving the Island’s foreshore and seabed to the public of Jersey, paving the way for wind farms and tidal turbines to be built in the seas around the Island.

But Gary Hamilton, who is the Seigneur, or feudal lord, of several fiefs in St Ouen, has backed claims last week that much of the foreshore, which is the coastal area between high and low tide, is not the Crown’s to give away because it is owned by the Seigneurs of Jersey.

St Ouen's Manor

  • A fief is an estate of land granted by the monarch in return for feudal service – the terms of service vary for different fiefs.
  • In Jersey the holder of a fief is called a Seigneur – a similar position to an English manor lord.
  • There are five senior fiefs in Jersey – St Ouen, Rosel, Samarès, Trinity and Mélêches. The largest and most important is St Ouen.
  • There are countless minor fiefs in Jersey, several of which have been confiscated by the Crown.
  • One of the surviving feudal duties for the Seigneur of Trinity is to present the monarch with a pair of mallard ducks when they visit the Island.
  • A duty of the Seigneur of Rosel is to act as the butler to the monarch whenever they are in the Island.
  • The fiefs have their roots in feudal allegiance to the Duke of Normandy during the 11th and 12th centuries.
  • Fiefs are inherited but can be bought and sold – most are considered to have only a sentimental or ceremonial value nowadays.[/breakout]

The claim was made by another Seigneur, Advocate Richard Falle, who fought a 14-year battle with the States, ending in 2003, after the government reclaimed land on the foreshore of his fief, the Fief de la Fosse, which stretches along the south coast of St Helier.

The States awarded Les Pas Holdings Limited, a company acting on Mr Falle’s behalf, a settlement of land on the Waterfront worth £10 million, which was bought by Dandara and developed into Castle Quay.

Mr Falle told the JEP last week that, with regard to the Jersey foreshore, the Crown ‘cannot give away what is not theirs’.

Mr Hamilton feels the issue is particularly relevant to him because one of his fiefs, which are parcels of land over which a Seigneur has rights, covers the Paternosters reef off the north coast of Jersey and he has been approached before about wind turbines being built there.

‘I’m willing to accept that things should happen to benefit the population but I don’t see why we should tear up the fundamentals of everyone’s land ownership,’ said Mr Hamilton.

‘The reality is we own a piece of land that is stated in the fiefs and it goes to the fundamental law of ownership.

‘When I bought my property, we went through court for some time and it’s the ownership of my home.

‘The fact that the boundaries go here, there and everywhere was part of it – the law says it is mine.

‘The passing of the contracts and the package of the fiefs was as important as buying the house.

‘It is part of the law and has to be upheld.

‘I appreciate there’s some ambiguity in the law and ancient French can be difficult to translate into English but I’m concerned when they are saying they will give chunks of land away.

‘We need to find a balance between respecting the legal rights of people with fiefs and not putting the Island in a position where it ends up out of pocket again in the future.’

Mr Hamilton suggested that the matter be discussed publicly and went on to stress the value of Jersey’s unique legal system.

‘These questions only seem to be asked about land ownership when someone wants to build something or the land goes up in value.

‘Maybe a popular debate would help the matter,’ he said

‘But part of what makes Jersey fantastic is its own unique law system.

‘That’s why the finance industry is in the Island – because we can set our own laws here – and they contribute so much to the community in terms of jobs and wealth.’

He added: ‘The legal system is what creates this fantastic jewel that is Jersey.’

NEWS that the Crown has given back the seabed and foreshore to the people of Jersey has reopened the debate about an issue which, 12 years ago, led to a public outcry akin to those which were sparked by the introduction of GST and the development of Plémont.

In 2003, the States effectively paid off Les Pas Holdings after its shareholders, led by Advocate Richard Falle, claimed that they held ancient feudal land rights to the area of foreshore on which the Waterfront was built.

The 14-year saga cost the taxpayer £10 million in an out-of-court settlement.

The claims were never tested in court and so the standing of these ancient rights held by Seigneurs remains shrouded in the uncertainty of centuries-old Jersey law.

Now, we are left with the possibility that if the seabed is leased out so that wind farms can be built in Island waters, there could be a repeat of the Les Pas saga because the Minquiers reef off the south coast is part of an ancient fief.

How many more times is the law of unintended consequences going to hit the Jersey taxpayer in the pocket?

How many times are savvy lawyers – or indeed useless ones instructed by short-sighted politicians – going to cost this Island dearly?

The contract put before Keith Cavele, the man behind the doomed Knights of Impossingworth film which cost the Island £200,000, failed to stipulate that the cash for pre-production work had to be spent in Jersey.

Time and again, the taxpayer has had to fund eye-watering pay-offs when top civil servants fall out with their political masters.

The failed legal challenge to the UK government’s decision to stop the Island exploiting LVCR – low-value consignment relief – cost Jersey far more than Guernsey. In that example, the legal advice on which Jersey acted was seriously flawed.

And so the list goes on.

If the costs of shelved consultants’ reports and other professional fees for failed States-funded projects are added to the list, costs such as the hundreds of thousands squandered on finding a new home for the sea cadets, are factored in, the black hole may not look quite so daunting.

And yet who in the pay of the States has taken responsibility for these errors of judgment – this waste of public money?

The answer is as predictable as it is unsatisfactory – nobody.

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