4th October 2006

Sark voted for democracy

Sark was once the last feudal state in Europe – a fact that was frequently trotted out. Feudalism, which was once prevalent throughout Europe, is a political system in which landowners hold power over the rest of the population. Sark was founded on precisely this principle.

The island had been divided into 40 lots, which were handed down through the families of the original 40 settlers. Each plot of land gave the owner certain voting rights. Anyone without land also found themselves without equivalent rights. Naturally this didn’t sit well with modern, democratic institutions like the European Union. The Barclay brothers who live on the neighbouring island of Brecqhou and own many businesses on Sark weren’t keen, either.

They – and, going on the result of the referendum – a large proportion of Sark’s population wanted to move away from the feudal system to a political constitution that more closely resembled that in Guernsey and Jersey, as well as the mainland: democracy.

Choosing the future

Islanders were asked to choose between two options: 28 open seats to which anyone could be elected, or a mix of 12 seats for Deputies, eight seats for Tenants and eight open seats.

The result of a vote on the issue was 234 in favour of the first option – democracy – with 184 voting for option two, which retained elements of the existing feudal system. As a result, 28 representatives would be elected to sit in the Chief Pleas, in place of the 52 that sat there before. Its previous make-up had comprised 40 hereditary representatives and 12 people’s deputies.

The issue had come to a head when the Barclay brothers challenged the rule that only male heirs could inherit on Sark. This restriction contravened the European Convention on Human Rights.


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