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The BBC's Jane O'Brien
reports from Sark on the modernising of a feudal way of life
 real 28k

Thursday, 25 November, 1999, 02:42 GMT
Sark women get equal rights
sark Sark daughters may now inherit property

Women on the tiny Channel Island of Sark have finally gained equal property rights.

Sark's ruling body has agreed to change a 400-year-old law under which daughters could only inherit if there were no male heirs.

The law had not been changed since 1565
Until the vote on Wednesday evening, all land had to be left to the eldest son - it could not be split up.

But now the 52 mainly-unelected rulers, the Chief Pleas, have decided that it is the right of all residents on the five-mile-square island to decide who can inherit their property.

Sark is the smallest independent state in the British Commonwealth and described by residents as the last bastion of feudalism in the modern world.

The right of the first born son to inherit his father's property has been enshrined in its law since the "seigneur", the island's hereditary ruler, was granted the island in perpetuity by Queen Elizabeth I in 1565.

Sark resident: "It's a shame...but we know we have to change"
The change to the island's constitution was begun by the multi-millionaire Barclay brothers, who live on the neighbouring island of Breqhou, governed by Sark.

David and Frederick Barclay, who own the Ritz and the Scotsman newspaper, want to be able to divide their 60m granite castle on Brequou between all four of their children, three boys and a girl.

They threatened to take the island to the European Court of Human Rights, and lobbied the Home Office.

Locals not all happy

Elected deputy John Carre said after the Pleas' meeting that the decision was approved by a substantial majority during a near two-hour session.

Many locals are unhappy: "We don't need any changes"
"It was just a step that needed doing," said Mr Carre. "It was pointed out to us that we were in breach of human rights, although nobody on Sark felt that at the time."

The change is likely to be the beginning of wider reform following next month's election of the 12 deputies to the Chief Pleas (the other 40 members belong because they own land).

A committee is to be formed to review the whole constitution of the island. This could include, for the first time, the right to divorce without having to leave the island for a year first.

The Barclays prompted the changes from their remote island
And it could even mean a change in the law that allows wife-beating provided the husband uses a stick no thicker than his little finger and does not draw blood.

However, many of Sark's 600 residents are determined not to allow too much to change.

"Sark is the envy of many people who would like to enjoy our quality of life," said Werner Rang, a 79-year-old Chief Pleas member.

"While inheritance reform is something that we think is necessary, we don't want any more change. The administration of the island is perfect."

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17 Nov 99 |  UK
When the law is an ass

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