In 1549 a summons was issued to "the Estates of this island, that is to say the Jurats, Rectors, and Constables, to meet to have advice on matters which concern the common good". (The word Etats was in common use in France at this time. The French Parliament was called the Etats Generaux, and there were provincial Etats de Normandie, Etats de Bretagne, Etats de Bourgogne, etc.) For the next two centuries Jersey had two legislative bodies. Ordinances of the Court and Acts of the States were equally binding.
- The States Assembly - an explanation of how it works and how it developed from the States website
- States Building
- States Chamber
In 1771 an Order in Council made the States the only body with power to legislate. It can make temporary regulations for three years without express permission from the Crown, but all permanent laws must be submitted through the Privy Council for the King's (Queen's) assent.
When the monarchy was restored after the English Civil War and a period of Parliamentarian rule, King Charles II who had escaped to Jersey on his way to exile in France,[ rewarded Jersey with the power to levy customs duties. This power, exercised by the Assembly of Governor, Bailiff and Jurats, was finally taken over by the States in 1921, thereby enabling the States to control the budget independently of the Lieut-Governor.
The States voted on 6 November 1856 to adopt a law to add 14 Deputies to the assembly to counterbalance the mismatch of population and voting power between town and country. The first Deputies were elected on 12 January 1857.
The first election by secret ballot was held December 1 1891.
Until the constitutional reforms brought in in the 1940s to begin to separate legislature and judiciary, Jurats were the senior politicians, elected for life by islandwide suffrage, and were the presidents of committees and sat in the Royal Court to preside over cases. In 1948 they were replaced in the legislature by directly-elected Senators, who were elected for terms of nine years (subsequently reduced to six).
The Rectors were also removed from the States in 1948 (with the exception of the Dean, who remained but lost his vote, and replaced by an increased number of Deputies.
The urban-rural imbalance which successive reforms have attempted to address remains. The less populated rural parishes enjoy an electoral advantage over the densely populated urban parishes due to the uneven distribution of seats when compared to population.
The speaker of the States Assembly is the Bailiff, who is also the President of the Royal Court. The gradual paring away of the Bailiff's powers in the legislature continues and in 2005 the Bailiff lost his casting vote in the event of a tie.
A report produced under the chairmanship of Sir Cecil Clothier proposed a range of administrative reforms aimed at improving the machinery of government, including ending the distinction between Senators and Deputies, the removal of the Constables from the States and the removal of the Bailiff. However aspects of the report, especially concerning the rôle of Constable, met with intense opposition at public meetings in the parishes. A ministerial system has been introduced in an amended form to that proposed by Clothier.