April 10, 2008 / 1:23 PM / 11 years ago

Sark ends 450 years of feudalism

LONDON (Reuters) - The West’s last remaining feudal system has come to an end after the Privy Council endorsed a vote by locals on the tiny Channel Island of Sark to change the way they are governed.

The West's last remaining feudal system has come to an end after the Privy Council endorsed a vote by locals on the tiny Channel Island of Sark to change the way they are governed. REUTERS/Graphics

Sark, which lies about 6 miles (10 km) east of Guernsey off the coast of Normandy, has broadly held onto its political and judicial systems since Queen Elizabeth I bestowed them upon it nearly 450 years ago.

The car-free island has been governed by a mainly unelected parliament called the Chief Pleas, traditionally made up of members of landed families. It meets just a few times a year.

The seigneur, effectively the lord of Sark or head landlord, appoints the judiciary and has until recently been entitled to a cut from any property bought and sold on the island and even to the ancient system of tithe levies.

In return, he must maintain an army to keep the island “free of the Queen’s enemies”.

But locals and modernisers want a fully elected 28-member chamber and the 600 residents opted for the change in a poll at the end of 2006. That decision has now been endorsed by the Privy Council, a body of senior government ministers in London.

Every person who has lived on the island for more than a year is now entitled to take part in elections. The first will be in December, with the parliament sitting for the first time the following January.

Sark is not part of Britain and nor is it a sovereign state. It has its own legislature, judicial system and administration but London is responsible for its defence, foreign affairs and law and order.

The changes will also see the introduction of a legal expert who will take part in any complicated or sensitive case.

The island’s seneschal, or judge, Lieutenant Colonel Reg Guille, said the changes to both the judiciary and government would modernise both.

But he said island life would go on as normal.

“It’s a very quiet and peaceful place: we are a self-sufficient, close-knit community and we like to get on with life away from the public eye.”

Editing by Giles Elgood

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