Second Report of the Commissioners: The State of the Criminal Law in the Channel Islands: Guernsey

We whose hands and seals are hereunto set, Commissioners, appointed by Your Majesty's Commission, bearing date the 16th day of May, in the ninth year of Your Majesty's reign, for inquiring in to the Criminal Laws in force in Your Majesty's Channel Islands and into the constitutions and powers of the Tribunals and Authorities charged with the execution of such laws, humbly certify to Your Majesty that, having completed our inquiry so far as the same related to the Island of Jersey, the result of which we have already laid before Your Majesty in our First Report, we forthwith proceeded, in further obedience to Your Majesty's gracious commands, to the Island of Guernsey.

Second Report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into The State of the Criminal Law in the Channel Islands: Guernsey: London, William Clowes and Son for Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1848.

The laws in force in the Channel Islands have caused the British concern since the islands agreed to become loyal to the Crown. Conflict of interest, particularly when the commercial activities of the islands seemed to undermine the safety of the nation—in other words, where the independance of the islands appeared to be threatened by orders from the Crown—pitted the States against the British authorities.

Questions would be periodically raised by Governors, as the representatives of the Crown, or later, in Parliament. The States would usually send representatives to London to argue the points out. However, on certain occasions the Crown chose to send its own Commissioners to investigate the complaints. The conclusions of these commissions are recorded in three extremely interesting books.

The first is the report of a Commission sent into Guernsey by James I in 1607. The Commissioners came to investigate complaints instigated by the Jurats concerning the Governor's alleged abuse of power. The Commissioners included the Governor himself, Thomas Leighton, by then an old man, but who had been Governor of Guernsey for over four decades. Leighton did not much like Guernsey. He was a close friend and supporter of the Queen and sought at all times to look after the interests of the Crown, which did not always coincide with what islanders perceived to be their interests. When he arrived in Guernsey, he was horrified to discover that the island was crawling with 'Normaynes.' All French spies, of course. This mistrust of the islands' relationship with the French led the imposition of harsh rules. The islanders' complaints on an island-wide, parish and individual basis were examined by the Commissioners and their conclusions reported, and they make fascinating reading.

The second is a report of 1815 in to Guernsey's civil law, conducted here by the Royal Commissioners as a response to numerous complaints from 'strangers,' non-natives, complaining that they were badly treated in law when compared to the locals.

The third is the 1848 report into criminal law, which features verbatim accounts of the opinions of the Guernsey lawyers of the day, descriptions of representative trials, and defendants' and plaintiffs versions of contemporary events. The Commissioners were seeking to ensure that Guernsey law met the UK's criteria of validity and justice. It provides an invaluable record, including such treasures as the enquête into the death of Walter St John, the only other existing text of which is a copy sent to chancery at the time by the Governor, Sir Thomas Leighton, and which is in the National Archives.