17 April 2008

European feudalism coming to an end

ZUI this article from the BBC:
The UK Privy Council has approved proposed changes to the governing body of a Channel Island which still operates a feudal system of government.

Sark's ruling body, the Chief Pleas, breaches the European Convention of Human Rights because landowners have got a seat automatically for 450 years.

The Chief Pleas had already approved new reforms for an elected chamber.

A lawyer for millionaires Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, who own nearby Brecqhou island, said they will appeal.

Advocate Gordon Dawes said the approval will be disputed in the High Court in London as the reforms do not address the role of the seigneur and seneschal.

The seigneur is the head of the Chief Pleas and retains feudal rights and the seneschal is president of the Chief Pleas and head of the judiciary.


Sark has been governed by a mix of landowners and elected people's deputies since the 1600s.

Owners of the island's 40 tenements (divisions of land) currently have an automatic seat in the Chief Pleas, with islanders choosing 12 deputies.

They will be replaced by the new 28-member chamber, which was approved following a referendum [on 21 Feb 2008] for islanders voting for democracy.

The Privy Council's approval enables Sark's judiciary and parliament to be significantly modernised.


The government there can directly trace its roots back to Queen Elizabeth I, who once granted the ruling "Seigner" a fief on the tiny Channel Island.

The unelected descendents of 40 families brought in to colonise Sark, after the French abandoned it in 1553, have governed life on the island ever since.

But its feudal system of government started coming under pressure in 2000 in the light of human rights laws.

Two proposals for reform were rejected in 2005 and 2007 until the island's historic referendum.

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