The office of Jurat was created in the early years of the 13th century in a document known as the “Constitutions of King John” issued in 1204 and in which King John ordered that the Island should elect duodecim optimatos juratos - their 12 best sworn men to keep the pleas.
Jurats are elected to serve in the Royal Court and to decide questions of fact in court cases. They sit next to the judge and not only decide the facts in both civil and criminal trials; they also award damages and fines as well as determine sentences.
The work of the Jurats is unpaid and they are appointed by the Electoral College, consisting of the Bailiff, Jurats, the Connétables of the 12 parishes of Jersey, the elected States members, members of the Jersey Bar and Solicitors of the Royal Court.
When there is a vacancy, a copy of a letter from the Bailiff announcing this is delivered to each member of the Electoral College. If there are as many candidates, as there are vacancies – all the nominees become Jurats. If there are more people wanting to be Jurats than there are vacancies, a ballot takes place at a specially convened meeting of the Electoral College held in the Royal Court. If the first ballot results in an equal ballot of votes for each candidate the Bailiff calls for another vote. If the result of the second ballot is inconclusive, only then is the Bailiff permitted to vote and declare the final result of the ballot.
Every Jurat appointed by the Electoral College is required to take an oath of office before the Superior Number of the Royal Court. The oath is most likely to have been in existence since 1204.
Cases heard before Jurats in the Inferior Number of the Royal Court
The Bailiff and two Jurats constitute the Inferior Number of the Royal Court. The Inferior Number tries all contested civil matters (other than within the Petty Debts Court). Customary law offences such as murder, manslaughter, rape, grave and criminal / indecent / common assault, fraud, and theft are tried before a jury at a Criminal Assize (Crown Court).
The Inferior Number may impose a custodial sentence of up to four years. However the Inferior Number tries all such cases even though the sanction that might be imposed in the event that the accused is found guilty might exceed the limit of its sentencing jurisdiction.
The Superior Number of the Royal Court consists of the Bailiff and at least five Jurats The Superior Number primarily sits as a sentencing Court in criminal cases where a custodial sentence is likely to exceed four years. The Superior Number also possesses a residual appellate jurisdiction to hear an appeal against sentence only imposed by the Inferior Number. The Superior Number does not sit to try civil or criminal cases at first instance.
The respective functions of the Bailiff and the Jurats are set out in Article 16 of the Royal Court (Jersey) Law 1948. The Bailiff is the sole judge of law and procedure and has the power to award costs.
The Jurats decide the facts, award damages and determine the sentence or fine or the sanction in criminal cases. In all causes and matters, civil, criminal or mixed, the Bailiff has a casting vote:
Jurats act as Returning Officers for all public elections i.e. where candidates stand to be elected members of the States of Jersey (Legislative Assembly) as Senator (12) , Connétable (12) and Deputy (29), as well as for Procureur du Bien Public and Centeniers. There are two Procureurs for each of the 12 Parishes in the Island and they have oversight of the finances of the Parish.