Its origin is bound up with the problem of the origin of Jurats. The Cartulaire shows it functioning through the 13th century, but it was overshadowed by the triennial visits of the Justices Itinerant, for whom all important cases were reserved. The last of these visitations was in 1351, and in 1349 the Warden of the Isles was given "full power to judge and chastise evil doers and exercise full Jurisdiction in the King's name" Still, however, disputes from the islands were taken before the King's Bench at Westminster; but in 1368 this Court declared itself incompetent to deal with them and henceforth they were left entirely to the Royal Court with right of appeal to the Privy Council.
In the 14th century the Court divided itself into two tribunals, the Cour d'Heritage, dealing with real property, and the Cour de Catel, dealing with chattels and criminals. Two subsidiary Courts were added later, whose duties were never very closely defined, the Cour du Billet and the Cour du Samedi. The Cour de Catel was abolished in 1863.
In the lower Courts the Bailiff and two Jurats form a quorum. Appeals from these lie to the Full Court, at which seven Jurats must be present. In addition to its Judicial powers the Royal Court till the middle of the 16th century was the only legislative body in Jersey. As the States of Jersey began to gain power, Acts of the States and Ordinances of the Court had equal authority. In 1771 an Order in Council withdrew from the Court all legislative rights.
There are three full time judges of the Royal Court: the Bailiff, Deputy Bailiff and the Master. The Bailiff is the Chief Justice of the court and is assisted by the Deputy Bailiff. The Bailiff and Deputy Bailiff are the trial judges and together with two Jurats sit as the Inferior Number of the Royal Court to try civil cases and criminal matters that are not tried before a jury. When the Court is convened to impose sentences of longer than four years imprisonment the Superior Number sits with a minimum of five Jurats.
The Master deals with interlocutory matters in civil cases only. The volume of work in the Royal Court is such that part time Commissioners are appointed to act as judges for both civil and criminal trials.
Commissioners are legally qualified persons appointed by the Bailiff to sit as judges of the Royal Court under the provisions of the Royal Court (Jersey) Law 1948.
No appointment of a Commissioner can be made unless the person:
- Holds or has held judicial office in the Commonwealth
- Has been at least 10 years in practice at the Bar or as a Solicitor of the Royal Court
- Has been at least 10 years in practice at the Bar in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Guernsey or the Isle of Man
The Bailiff will often appoint a Commissioner to preside over the court either for a specific case or for a particular period. Such judges are often appointed to deal with particularly long cases or when it is otherwise inappropriate for the Bailiff or Deputy Bailiff to sit.
Role of the Judges
The roles of the Bailiff, Deputy Bailiff and Commissioners in the court, are identical; they are the sole judges of law and procedure and have the power to award costs.
Héritage Division The Héritage Division determines all proceedings relating to immovable (real) property in Jersey, such as disputes as to the ownership of land or the division of land between heirs when the owner of land dies without making a will.
Family Division The Family Division deals with suits for divorce, judicial separation, nullity of marriage and financial matters following to divorce proceedings. The division also deals with applications regarding access to and maintenance for children, applications for adoption, legitimacy declarations and proceedings with regard to the care and protection of children.
Probate Division The Probate Division has jurisdiction in all probate and adminstration matters, and determines all questions relating to a testamentary cause or matter.
Samedi Division The Samedi Division deals with all other matters, both civil and criminal. The Samedi Court is so called because it used to sit on a Saturday. Nowadays the it sits on a Friday. The Samedi Court sits in open court at 2.30 pm to pass contracts in connection with sales and transactions involving immovable property, hear the first presentation of representations to the court in civil matters and deal with civil cases listed on the Royal Court Table.
- Passing contracts
- An account of the process in the Samedi Court
- Arms from the Royal Court of 1648, an Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise article
- Royal Court and States Building art collection
- An 1861 complaint about the Court's impartiality