World’s Newest Democracy Enters Modern Age

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No, not Iraq.  Be serious.  I’m talking about Sark.

Sark, the smallest of the Channel Islands, is a self-governing dependency of the British crown, meaning that it is technically owned personally by the Queen but is not part of the United Kingdom.  Sark is about 5 square miles in size and holds 600 residents.  For the last 450 years, Sark has continued to operate under the feudal system — the heads of the island’s 40 ruling families meet periodically to raise taxes and decide legal issues.  Until Wednesday, anyway, when these legislators — known as the Chief Pleas — voted to adopt democracy (for everybody else, that is).

Many Sarkers, or whatever they’re called, were perfectly happy with the old system.  "Feudalism is a great system and has worked very well for the island," said one.  "[We were] hoping to reform through evolution, not revolution."  Only 165 of the 600 residents bothered to participate in a poll on what kind of government they wanted.

Until the Queen has approved the changes and the new legislature gets to work, Sark will retain its feudal laws, many of which date back to 1565.  The president of the Chief Pleas, called the "Seigneur," is required to take an oath of allegiance, pay annual rent, and maintain 40 armed men to "keep the Island free of the Queen’s enemies."  (The "40 armed men" are still required by law to own muskets.)  The rent has never been adjusted for inflation and so is currently about four bucks a year.  One of the perks the Seigneur gets in exchange for these duties is that he or she is the only person on the island allowed to own pigeons, which is nice.

My favorite of the Island’s legal rules is that you are still apparently able to get an injunction the old-fashioned way.  According to Sark’s official website, "Under Norman custom a person can obtain immediate cessation of any action he considers to be an infringement of his rights.  At the scene he must, in front of witnesses, recite the Lord’s prayer in French and cry out "Haro, Haro, Haro!  A mon aide mon Prince, on me fait tort."  This is called the "Clameur de Haro."  You then register your Clameur and the actions must cease until the court can hear the matter.  This is so much better than our boring old motion for a temporary restraining order.  I just want to be able to register my Clameur.
Official Website of Sark, That Small, Sweet World of Wave-Encompassed Wonder