The origins of the Honorary Police are uncertain, but it is thought that the roles of Constable, Centenier and Vingtenier originated in the 15th or early 16th century. According to John Kelleher’s “Triumph of the Country”, the two senior roles were first mentioned in 1462 and Vingtenier 40 years later.
Commissioners fifth visit
However, it is also argued that the origins of the parish police forces, if not the specific roles, can be traced back to 27 July 1331 when a visit was made by Robert de Norton, Guille de la Cour and Alias de la Rue, as Commissioners on behalf of King Edward III. This was the fifth such visit in only 22 years and Islanders were puzzled as to why so many visits were taking place. Balleine’s “History of Jersey” relates: “23 men met in St Helier’s Priory on the Islet and bound themselves by a tremendous oath to resist to the death any interference with the ancient liberties of the Island.”
“The leaders were Pierre Bernard de Pynsole, Laurens du Galars (or de Gaillard) and two French monks from Mont St Michel.” The leaders met the Justices and claimed confirmation of the ancient laws and customs of the Island and disputed any right of interference in them.
The Statute of Winchester of 1285 was a milestone in the development of policing in England and reaffirmed the principle of local responsibility for policing a district by setting out in statute three ancient measures, “watch and ward”, “hue and cry” and the “assize of arms”. They provided for a nightly watch at each gate of any walled town between sunset and sunrise for which all men of the town were rostered by the Constable for regular duty. The “hue and cry” raised against any fugitive had to be pursued by the whole population on pain of punishment, and the “assize of arms” required every man from 15 to 60 to have “harness to keep the peace”, varying with rank from a bow and arrows to “horse, hauberke and helm of iron”.
Possibly with this statute in mind, the Justices decided that a Constable would be in charge of each Parish, assisted by Centeniers and Vingteniers (one for every 100 and 20 parishioners, respectively) and that all the officers would be under the command of the Seigneur de Haubert, de Carteret, of St Ouen.
A 1968 Royal Court judgment states: “.. in the report of the Commissioners sent to enquire into the Criminal Law in force in the Channel Islands in 1846 they said of the parochial officers that their authority was –
“in the spirit of the ancient institutions, which imposed on the bas justiciers the duty of searching out crime and committing such offenders as they thought proper objects of prosecution.”
“Earlier the Commissioners had said “The parochial system had taken the place of the regular system of subordinate officers which we find described in the Grand Coutumier.”
“However, it may be relevant for us to mention that the parishes are very ancient, nine of them having been mentioned in the reigns of Robert I or William the Conqueror, and the remaining three alluded to at the same period, though not mentioned by name until the 12th century. We mention this fact because it is evident that the parishes existed long before the compilation of the Grand Coutumier.”
“… The records of the justices itinerant, which extend from 1299 to 1331, support the conclusion that the justices were responsible for forming the parish into a responsible police unit as they required it to pursue malefactors, to keep watch at night, to see that suspects who had taken sanctuary did not escape from the church and to keep prisoners in custody.”
“The Constable does not appear in our records as a parish official until 1462, and the first mention of a Centenier there occurs in 1502. These offices probably date from the time when the practice arose of the Bailiff and Jurats summoning to their assistance the “Commun Conseil” of the Island, which assembly later developed into the States of Jersey … In criminal matters the convenience of having a parochial officer in charge of the “enditement” (the jury of the parish) must soon have become apparent and it is not difficult to appreciate how the powers of theConstable in connection with police duties were gradually extended.”
“…. of the information afforded by the records of the justices itinerant, it is an inescapable conclusion that the police duties of the parochial officers have existed from a remote period.”