|17th September 2021
SARK’S NEW AND ALL FEMALE BENCH
On 15th September 2021 a notice from the Seigneur appeared on the Sark government website. The Seigneur was delighted to announce the appointment of new deputy Seneschal, Ms Victoria Stamps, who will commence her role on 1st October 2021 after she has taken her oath of office at the Royal Court in Guernsey. The appointment of Sark’s first female deputy follows on from the recent appointment of Sark’s first female Seneschal. Ms Beth Owen’s appointment was made public on 7th July 2021. These welcome new additions to Sark’s judiciary follow the retirement of the previous Seneschal Jeremy La Trobe-Bateman who stepped down in July 2021, and his deputy Ewan de Carteret, who is shortly due to follow suit later this month.
The Sark Court is an important pillar of Sark’s constitution and is fundamental to Sark’s autonomy. The composition, jurisdiction and procedures of the court are all prescribed in Part II of Sark’s 2008 Reform Law.
The Court of the Seneschal is the sole court of justice on the Island of Sark and the Reform Law prescribes that the Sark court has unlimited jurisdiction in any civil matter and also a limited jurisdiction in criminal matters. The business of Sark’s court is mostly concerned with civil and minor criminal litigation, liquor licencing, tobacco licensing, sudden deaths, inquests, property transfers and general registrations. Both Sark’s Conseillers and Sark’s Constables are all sworn in by the court. Without the local court, all of these matters would be controlled by Guernsey and have to be therefore dealt with in Guernsey. Sark’s court is one of the many things that makes our Island very special indeed.
In 2016 Chief Pleas commissioned an external review into the court; the review was conducted by Roger Venne QC and can be downloaded from the ‘Court of the Seneschal of Sark’ website: Venne Report (sarkcourt.co.uk). One of Venne’s recommendations was that Sark ‘extended its bench.’ Venne wrote in 2016:
“The Court should be augmented by the appointment of three Jurats, chosen from the inhabitants of the Island.”
Sark is currently progressing towards extending its bench; a public meeting was held on 3rd June 2021 at the Island Hall following consultation papers being sent to each Sark household last year.
The Sark court also has access to Lieutenant Seneschals from Guernsey who can be brought to Sark to hear a case if the Seneschal feels that there is a conflict or too much complexity. A legal background is not a requirement for the Island’s Seneschal, but any appointed Lieutenant must have extensive legal training and extensive legal experience. Sark currently has four Lieutenant Seneschals appointed to draw from: two men and two women.
The Sark Seneschal has an important role and once appointed they are hard to remove:
“The Seneschal shall not be removable from office prior to his retirement in accordance with subsection (2) except at his own request in writing addressed to the Seigneur or, for good cause, by the direction of the Lieutenant Governor upon the recommendation of the Seigneur.”
Unlike all other Sark officials’ salaries for the Sark Seneschal are not awarded by Chief Pleas but by a renumeration panel. The panel is constituted by three persons and appointed by the Seigneur. The Seneschal must be ordinarily resident on Sark, cannot be a Conseiller and an appointment cannot be made to someone aged 65 or above.
The Sark Newspaper would like to echo the sentiments of the Seigneur by congratulating both ladies on these important appointments and in wishing them all the best in their new positions.