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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 October 2006, 14:40 GMT 15:40 UK
Feudal island brings in democracy
Sark Chief Pleas
The seats in the new Chief Pleas will be reduced from 52 to 28
The ruling body of the Channel Island of Sark, Europe's last feudal state, has voted to introduce a fully democratic government.

Owners of the island's 40 tenements (divisions of land) had an automatic seat in the Chief Pleas, and islanders chose 12 people's deputies.

But now the Chief Pleas is to be made up entirely of 28 elected deputies.

The island needed to reform its constitution to comply with European human rights laws.

The next time Sark goes to the polls it will be one person, one vote
Deputy Paul Armogie

The island agreed in March to change its 400-year-old system of government, which could directly trace its roots back to Queen Elizabeth I, who once granted the ruling "Seigner" a fief on the tiny Channel Island.

The unelected descendents of 40 families brought in to colonise Sark, after the French abandoned it in 1553, have governed life on the island ever since.

The decision to change was in response to a legal challenge by businessmen Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, who live on the neighbouring island of Brecqhou.

The billionaire brothers said the feudal system did not square with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The island's government tried to come up with a compromise of a Chief Pleas made up of elected deputies and elected tenants.

But this failed after concerns that it would still not be considered democratic enough and would be challenged by the European Court of Human Rights or the UK Privy Council.

An opinion poll last month also showed that most of Sark's 500 islanders supported a system made up completely of elected representatives.

Ballots outlined two options. In the first, the Chief Pleas would be made up entirely of 28 elected deputies.

Universal suffrage

A second option would also have seen 28 seats, but with the body being made up of 12 elected deputies, eight elected tenants and eight additional elected members.

Of the 419 returned ballots, 234 opted for the first option and 184 for the second.

The decision to officially change has been described as "monumental" by the island's current ruling deputies.

Deputy Paul Armogie said: "Now the Chief Pleas has voted in favour of an option for universal suffrage.

"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."

The role of Seigneur, who acts on behalf of the British monarch, will end when a full elected government starts.

Election reform poll results due
06 Sep 06 |  Guernsey
Islanders to have say on reforms
10 Aug 06 |  Guernsey
Meeting debates constitution plan
20 Jun 06 |  Guernsey
Meeting fails to pick reform plan
06 Jul 06 |  Guernsey
Setback over Sark's constitution
20 Apr 06 |  Guernsey
Shedding tears for Sark
14 Dec 05 |  Magazine

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