This briefing is directed towards both foreign lawyers who may need to instruct Jersey law firms and use the Jersey courts and local clients who whilst themselves familiar with the court system may have clients or potential clients who would like to understand the basics of its structure. This briefing focuses on the civil side of the court system and on the Royal Court, which is the principal court in the jurisdiction.
The Royal Court and the Appellate Courts
The Royal Court has four different divisions, Probate (for wills matters), Family, Héritage (for matters concerning immoveable property), and Samedi (for the remainder of cases), although they are not physically separate nor do different judges sit within them. Apart from a Matrimonial Registrar, the judges do not specialise in a particular field and the Royal Court simply sits as a particular division to hear a particular case. Most cases are dealt with in the Samedi Division, which deals with all cases not allocated to the other divisions. For example it is in the Samedi Division that commercial and trust cases are heard. As an offshore jurisdiction, the Royal Court is particularly experienced in dealing with trust related disputes and trustee applications for directions.
The Court of Appeal, which sits six times per year hears appeals from the Royal Court in both criminal and civil cases. From the Court of Appeal, the highest court to which appeal may be taken is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England.
The administrative functions of the Royal Court are performed by the Judicial Greffe which provides the court clerks and produces the Acts of Court (orders) after hearings. The Master (see below) sits within the Judicial Greffe. The Viscount's department is the enforcement arm of the Royal Court. Officers of the Viscount are the official process servers within the Island. Also, if a judgment is obtained but remains unsatisfied, a party can obtain enforcement through the Viscount who has the power to distain moveable property.
There are three full time judges of the Royal Court, the Bailiff, Deputy Bailiff and the Master. The present office holders are Sir Phillip Bailhache, Michael Birt, and John Wheeler respectively. The Master (also referred to as the Judicial Greffier), tends to sit as judge on interlocutory and case management hearings. The Bailiff and Deputy Bailiff are the main trial/substantive hearing judges. The
Bailiff has constitutional functions in addition to his judicial role, and so it is the Deputy Bailiff who hears a larger number of the cases which come before the Royal Court for determination. There are also additional judges known as Commissioners. These are judges brought in on a case by case basis. They tend to be English Q.C.s or former Royal Court judges.
For the great majority of cases, the trial judge sits to hear a case with two Jurats. The Jurats, of which there are a panel of twelve, are not lawyers and are elected from the Island community by an electoral college. In civil cases the Jurats are the judges of fact, and make the findings of fact at a hearing. The judge determines the questions of law.
The judges of the Court of Appeal are senior English silks, including Michael Beloff Q.C. (President), Jonathan Sumption Q.C, Peter Smith Q.C., Sir John Nutting Q.C., David Vaughan QC, Dame Heather Steel, Michael Jones QC, Geoffrey Vos QC, James McNeill QC, John Martin QC, plus the Bailiff of Guernsey, Geoffrey Rowland.
The lawyers who appear before the Jersey Courts are called Advocates. These days, the vast majority have first qualified as solicitors or barristers in England and have re-qualified in Jersey by taking the local exams.
Only locally qualified lawyers have rights of audience before the Jersey courts. However, lawyers at Ogier are experienced in working together with lawyers from different jurisdictions as part of a team, as is often necessary in multi-jurisdictional disputes.
The Jersey Government, known as the States, has its own legal team called the Law Officers' Department. It is headed by the Attorney General and his deputy, the Solicitor General. They, or a lawyer nominated by them, appear on behalf of the States in matters concerning the States or its Ministers, including proceeds of crime and regulatory matters.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.