The role of the Constables

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This article by Ralph Mollet was first published in the 1951 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

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Origin obscure

The Parish is of very ancient origin, being constituted at the time when the churches were built. The civil chief of the parish is the Connétable or Constable, the origin of this office being doubtful. Both Falle, the historian, and Le Geyt, the commentator, are silent on this matter; other writers go on to say that it is of English origin and is similar to the Office of High Constable.

In France the Connétable was a high military official. Francis Hugo says that the office is not Norman. In the Charter of Henry VII, 1495, there is a clause enacting that the Connétables of each parish are to be freely elected by the parishioners, without any recommendation of the Captain or Jurats. But in spite of this order we find the Governor nominating the Connétables.

Their term of office was not limited; some remained for life; in some instances the office became hereditary. Very often a Connétable became a Jurat, and until a successor was found, the Jurat continued to act as Connétable. In 1621 it was ordered that after three years in office the Connétable had to apply to the Court for a new election.

In 1669 the Connétables were ordered to attend the Royal Court once a month to report on any complaints in their parish. In their respective parishes they were in charge of the arms and ammunition belonging to the Militia. Very often the Connétable was an officer of the Militia. In case of an alarm the Connétable had to keep candles ready in the churches to be lit for Militiamen of the parish to muster there with their food and blankets, ready to be sent to the rendezvous; if the alarm lasted more than a day he had to assist in feeding the Militiamen on duty.

Duties

The Connétable presides over the Parish Assembly; he is the Mayor of his parish, head of the police, and often settles simple disputes and differences. It is his duty to see that order is preserved; he is assisted by Centeniers, who are also elected by the people for three years; by Vingteniers and by Officiers du Connétable who are elected for a longer period. The Connétable and Centeniers have the right of arresting, and even of imprisoning with the consent of the Jurats, but in cases of imprisonment a written report of the whole case must be, without loss of time, made to the Court. All reports of the Centeniers must in the first instance be addressed to the Connétable, who presents them to the Court.

The Connétable, by virtue of his office, is a member of the States of the Island, and when any new laws are submitted to the Assembly it is left to him, should he think fit, to refer the matter to his constituents. The Connétable must reside in his parish.

In the oath which the Connétable has to take before the Royal Court he swears that he will keep the King's Peace and suppress and arrest those who interrupt the public peace, presenting them before the Courts to be dealt with; that he will protect all rights belonging to the parish; and will attend to the general welfare of his parishioners, with the advice of the Principals and Officers of the parish; that he will, through his Centeniers, call together the Officers of the parish once a month to discuss parish affairs; and to be informed of any crimes and infractions of the various regulations in order to report to the Court from time to time. He will also carry out all orders he may receive from the Lieut-Governor, the Bailiff or the Jurats, in execution of their office, and will assist at the Assembly of the States when called upon.

The senior Centenier acts as Chief of Police in the absence of the Connétable.

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