17th January 1803
Guernsey’s Royal Court sits for the first time
Guernsey’s legal and political life revolves around the Royal Court. The St Peter Port building that houses it is home to the island’s parliament as well as its civil and criminal courts.
The institution has moved about over the years. For a while it found a home at Elizabeth College, but on the whole it has been focused on central St Peter Port. It moved into its current position at the start of the 19th century and sat there for the first time on 17 January 1803.
The end of home working
The Royal Court’s website recounts how its former premises had been so small that the island’s clerks (greffiers) had been obliged to keep the island’s valuable records in their own homes. This was unacceptable, so the decision was made to buy a plot of land in Town and construct a new building that would be large enough to hold not only the records, but the essential departments of government and the law under a single roof. Conveniently, the land they chose was owned by William Le Marchant, who at that time was Guernsey’s Bailiff.
The front of the building was completed just before the turn of the century, but within two decades it was already feeling a little cramped once again, and was extended to the rear.
The Court’s needs continued to evolve as the amount of work that it was undertaking grew. As it entered the new millennium it was no longer fit for purpose, so plans were made to extend it for a second time.
The old prison at the back of the building was demolished and new rooms were built in its place including, perhaps most importantly, new court rooms to handle the close-to 2000 cases it was hearing every year. The extension was completed in 2005, and immediately a 12-month process of renovation got underway on the existing buildings so that they could be brought up to a standard to match.