Sark is one of the smaller members of the Channel Islands in the English Channel. The Islands' biggest members are Jersey and Guernsey. Despite being much closer to France than they are to Britain they are British Crown dependencies and Queen Elizabeth II is their Head of State. Their main languages are English and French. But it is not a part of Britain - Sark is one of the world's tiniest independent states.

The TimesOctober 05, 2006

After four centuries, Sark gives power to the people

By Simon de Bruxelles

THE tiny Channel Island of Sark, which used to boast of being the last feudal state in Europe, voted yesterday to embrace 21st century democracy.

In future, the island will no longer be governed by an hereditary seigneur deriving authority directly from the Queen and a group of unelected landholders, but by an elected council.

Islanders voted by 234 to 184 to abolish Sark’s 450-year-old system of government.

Since the reign of Elizabeth I, Sark, which is six miles from Guernsey but entirely selfgoverning, was run by the descendants of 40 “tenants” given the right to settle there in 1533. In a concession to modernity, the island’s parliament Government, the Chief Pleas, was recently expanded to include 12 “people’s deputies” elected by islanders.

They were given the choice of an entirely elected body or one that included eight representatives of the 40 tenants.

The biggest change for Sark’s 610 residents is likely to be the abolition of the feudal position of the Seigneur, who was the Sovereign’s sole representative on the island. The most famous of the seigneurs was Sybil Hathaway, known as the Dame of Sark, who refused to leave when the Nazis occupied the island during the Second World War and prevailed upon the other 471 islanders to stay.

Michael Beaumont took the title in 1974 and will remain the Seigneur until the new Government is elected. His rights include being the only person on the island allowed to keep pigeons and unspayed bitches, and ownership of anything washed up between the high and low tide lines. The Seigneur is also entitled to a cut of the sale price of any property changing hands on the island.

The new system will create 28 elected deputies to sit in the Chief Pleas.

Paul Armogie, a Deputy, said that yesterday’s vote was a monumental change for the island, which is three miles long and one and a half miles wide.

“The next time Sark goes to the polls it will be one person, one vote, looking for 28 people to serve on the Chief Pleas and its committees,” he said.

The move towards greater democracy has been a controversial issue, with many islanders quite happy to continue living in by 16th century rules. The campaign gained additional momentum when the billionaire businessmen Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay challenged the Government’s legality under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Barclay brothers, who built a castle on the nearby island of Brecqhou, challenged Sark’s traditional right to allow only males to inherit. An electoral reform group from London visited Sark over the summer to initiate reforms. Forms were then distributed to all islanders eligible to vote.

The draft legislation will now be sent to the Privy Council for approval. Once it is approved, it is likely to take a couple of months until the new democracy comes into force.

Sark is 80 miles from the English mainland and 25 miles west of the Cherbourg peninsula

It is one of eight British Channel Islands. The others are Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Herm, Jethou, Brecqhou and Lihou. Brecqhou is owned by two Scottish brothers who also own the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

The first Seigneur of Sark was Hellier de Carteret, who ruled from 1563 to 1578

The unemployed and those in seasonal jobs such as fishing and tourism have to find work in winter mending roads, which carry no traffic except tractors

Last edited by Blackleaf; Oct 5th, 2006 at 01:25 PM..