Senator role disappears in major reform of States Assembly electoral system

 States Reform, Jersey - Constables Axed
Major reforms will see the island-wide role of Senators axed and replaced by 37 district representatives. Credit: ITV Channel TV

Jersey's States Assembly has approved major reforms to the island's electoral system. It will see the island-wide role of Senators axed, and replaced instead by 37 district representatives.

The island's 12 Constables will retain their seats in the Assembly under this reform.

The proposal brought by Deputy Russell Labey, Chair of the Privileges and Procedures Committee (PPC), was a revision of a proposal debated and defeated in March last year which would have removed Constables' automatic right to sit in the States, and proved to be a deal breaker for many states members.

Credit: ITV Channel TV

This latest proposal, according to PPC, "offers the compromise" of retaining this automatic right, although concern was voiced by some Constables in particular that this was simply the "first phase in a two stage approach" to remove the Constables altogether.

Constables represent 24% of the States Assembly, and are often voted in unopposed. Retaining their "special status", according to PPC, can be remedied by ensuring "the remaining 76% of the Assembly membership is elected with an equality in voting weight and power across the whole population".

That will be achieved by the introduction of constituency boundaries drawn in line with international standards and based on population size, leaving the island with nine electoral districts.

The aim of the proposals overall is to make the system simpler and ultimately encourage greater participation and voter turnout. Credit: ITV Channel TV
  • St Helier would be split into three districts (1,2,3), each with four, five and four representatives respectively.

  • St Saviour (4) would have five representatives, St Clement (5) four and St Brelade (6) four.

  • St Mary, St Ouen and St Peter (7),which are smaller parishes would be joined as one district with a total of four representatives.

  • The same would happen to St John, St Lawrence and Trinity (8), which would also share a total of four seats.

  • Grouville and St Martin (9) would make up the ninth district, with three representatives.

The idea is that larger districts would "pretty well guarantee that there will be contested elections in every district" which in turn "should drive higher levels of voter engagement".

The Assembly hope the reforms will improve voter enagement. Credit: ITV Channel TV

The proposals were similar to Option B in the 2013 referendum, which won considerable public support, although the number of district representatives was increased from 30 to 37 and the proposed number of districts upped from six to nine.A number of amendments which sought variations of the original proposition were tabled and rejected, apart from one by the Constable of St Martin, Karen Shenton-Stone which was approved.Her amendment sought to address the issue of candidates being elected unopposed by adding a "none of the above" option to the ballot paper where a post is uncontested.

PPC will now be required to bring forward proposals for how this could be implemented prior to the 2022 election. In particular they will have to come up with a plan for what the "appropriate formal consequences" would be where "none of the above" is successful.

Credit: ITV Channel TV

Other amendments which were defeated:Two amendments, one by Deputy Macon, another by Constable Len Norman, both proposed to abolish the automatic right of constables to sit in the Assembly.

Deputy Higgins suggested that the weighting of parishes be adjusted to take into account the 12 Constables, which with an automatic seat in the Assembly should require some of them "to give up some of their Deputies". 

St Helier Districts 1,2 and 3 for example, although they would have 13 representatives between them, would be sharing one Constable, giving them a total of 14 seats in the Assembly. That, his argument went, would be an under-representation compared to some smaller districts, made up of more than one parish who would end up over-represented once the Constables were added in.

Senator Farnham had proposed to retain the roles of both Senators and Constables, but to reduce the number of Deputies elected to 28, from six districts.

The Chief Minister's amendment sought to increase the overall number of members to 53, by adding four Deputies to the districts most distorted in terms of their representation, but retaining the roles of Senators and Constables.  

Finally, the Constable of Grouville proposed that any approved outcome should be made subject to a referendum prior to being enacted.