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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 15:58 GMT
Sark considers democracy
Land on Sark was passed to eldest sons for centuries
The last feudal constitution in the western world is introducing elections to comply with United Nations human rights legislation.

The elections will change a system dating back to Queen Elizabeth I, who once granted the ruling "Seigner" a fief on the tiny Channel Island of Sark.

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.

Islander Richard Dewe helped draught a review on the future constitution of the island in advance of a final recommendation expected in March.

We would like to retain an element of the feudal system at least by name

Islander Richard Dewe

He told BBC News Online: "This has been brewing for years now... we realise that human rights are needed.

"But whether landowners will stand for election and take the risk of not being voted in is the crux of the matter.

"They have always been safeguarded and could make unpopular decisions without risking their position.

"That would all change if there was an elected legislature."

There are currently 52 members of Sark's ruling body, 40 of them hereditary landowners called "chief pleas".

In 1922, 12 elected members called "deputies" were also introduced.

Several options

That number will rise when the final proposal for further change is announced in March.

But not everyone on Sark could end up with a vote.

Free elections for the whole population is only one option, and the others include the landowners being elected by their peers.

Mr Dewe, 65, said: "We would like to retain an element of the feudal system at least by name.

"Not all the property owners see their duty as running the island... some of them own property but do not live here."

"A lot of people from outside see politics as 'them versus us', but I did 30 years as a deputy and I have never seen a split vote."

See also:

25 Nov 99 | UK
Sark women get equal rights
17 Nov 99 | UK
When the law is an ass
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