This article was first published in the Autumn 2022 Rural magazine (Issue 40).
The tradition of the Visite Royale dates back centuries. The Visite sees the Royal Court visit each parish once every six years to inspect the parish accounts and roads. The Court will also deal with any encroachments or impediments from neighbouring land onto parish land. At each Visite, a junior advocate is selected to attend and present submissions to the Court. This year I was lucky enough to be selected to fulfil that role when the Visite attended the Parish of St. Saviour.
In attendance before the Court will be the officials and guests of the relevant parish. The connétable is asked to present the Parish accounts. Enquiries are made of the Parish Roads Inspectors as to the state of the roads. The Court then processes along the parish roads on a route selected by the parish in order that the Court can adjudicate on any disputes, encroachments or transgressions from neighbouring lands. The route must not travel back on itself, nor must it leave that particular parish.
When the Court arrives at the area of a dispute, a spokesperson for the parish provides an overview of the issue. If it involves overhanging trees, the Viscount will measure the height of the overhanging branches to determine whether an encroachment exists. If the issue is one of an encroachment onto a road, the Arpentuer will ascertain the correct width. The Attorney General is on hand to advise the Court and offer his conclusions. The role of the Junior Advocate is to make representations on behalf of the adjoining land owners. The Court may also listen to any interested parties present (such as adjoining land owners), before it retires a short distance away to reach its conclusions. If encroachments are found, the landowner may be liable to a fine, and the removal of the encroachment may be ordered.
The Visite remains an important sitting of the Court. The Royal Court has a supervisory role in respect of parish affairs, as evidenced by the fact that parish officials are sworn-in by the Court. The Visite allows the Court to ensure that the parish is properly managing its finances and maintaining the roads under its control – in effect allowing the Court to ensure that parish officials are properly serving their parishioners.
At this year’s Visite of St. Saviour, I had the honour of being the Junior Advocate. There were two issues for the Court to consider, both concerning public footpaths that had fallen into disuse and had become overgrown. The parish wished to reopen these footpaths. The contractual position was unclear. It also became apparent that there were a number of adjoining landowners who might wish to oppose the orders sought. The Court declined to make any orders, and instead, invited the Parish to discuss matters further with the adjoining land owners, in order to establish the correct route of the pathways.
I was fortunate enough to be invited as a guest of the Parish of Grouville during the recent Visite of Grouville. I had recently assisted the Parish with regards to the ownership of La Fontaine es Cabots, on Grouville Hill. As part of the Visite, the Court unveiled a plaque confirming the fountain as Parish property. It has been a real privilege to attend two Visites this year and to see this traditional, but still relevant and important, “sitting” of the Court.