Each of the ten parishes in Guernsey is administered by two elected Constables. They are supported and scrutinised by an elected council of residents called the Douzaine.
Together the Constables and the Douzeniers aim to promote a thriving local community.
The Constables are responsible by law for the day-to-day administration of the parish, assisted by a small team of parish staff.
Douzeniers are representatives of the parishioners and are responsible for the vision and direction of the parish and the transparency of its affairs. The Douzeniers elect a Dean and a Vice-Dean. In most parishes there are 12 Douzeniers, as the name “Douzaine” suggests. But the Vale has 16 and St Peter Port has 20.
Douzeniers and Constables are volunteers. The parish staff are employed by the Constables on behalf of the parish.
The responsibilities of the parish are numerous. Here’s a selection:
- collecting the parish rates and ensures the funds are well spent
- collecting household refuse
- issuing liquor licences
- giving permission to erect buildings within 1.5m of a public road (‘bornement’)
- inspecting hedges and douits after the June/September cutting back
- maintaining parish property
- promoting and enhancing the assets of the parish
In addition, there are optional projects, such as
- producing a parish magazine
- taking part in Floral Guernsey
Links to the States
Douzaines are the link between the parish and the States of Guernsey.
Historically, Constables and Douzeniers have met with parish Deputies before States meetings to give feedback on the items in the Billet d’Etat (agenda) on behalf of parishioners but this may change under Island-Wide Voting. Some parishes have also organised parish surgeries for members of the public to meet with their local Deputies
The main commitment for a Douzenier is the monthly meeting of the Douzaine, called by the Senior Constable, to discuss parish affairs. Several parishes publish summary minutes of these meetings. For example, Vale and St Peter Port.
Douzeniers also assist the Constables in caring for the parish. For example, Douzeniers check the hedges and streams in their canton (sub-division of the parish) in June and September.
Douzeniers may also be asked to focus on a particular aspect of the work of the Douzaine, or join a specific sub-committee. A sub-committee might produce the parish magazine or organise the parish’s contribution to Floral Guernsey.
The two Constables are the executive officers of the parish and have a more extensive and hands-on role, in conjunction with the parish staff. They are responsible for the collection of parish taxes and accounting for how those funds are spent. They make sure parish assets like the Douzaine Room and the parish cemeteries are well maintained. They are the point of contact for the States and for the media.
Constables are ‘summoned’ to the ancient Court of Chief Pleas once a year, attend an annual Chief Pleas dinner with the Bailiff and the Lieutenant-Governor and are invited to a Garden Party at Government House for the Queen’s Birthday.
All of the island’s Constables have an informal meeting twice a year, to share experiences.
Each Douzenier is elected for four years. Terms are staggered so there will be three to five seats up for election each year, depending on the parish. There are no restrictions on re-standing so the seat may be vacant or you may be running against a current Douzenier.
Constables are elected by law for a three year term but the convention in many parishes is to only serve for two of those years – one as Junior Constable and one as Senior Constable. Again, there are no restrictions on re-standing.
Contact your parish office to find out what elections are coming up.
To stand for election as a Douzenier or Constable, you must be proposed by two people who live in the parish and are on the electoral roll. You don’t need to wait to be asked – if you want to stand, just find two people in the parish who would be happy to sign your nomination form. Ideally, one of your proposers will be willing to make a short speech at the next parish meeting explaining why you are a good candidate.
Nomination forms are available on your parish website or in person from the parish office. Nominations open three to four weeks before the election and completed nomination forms must be received seven working days prior.
Elections take place in November, although there may be additional elections at other times of year if someone steps down before the end of their term of office or a seat has not been filled at the main election.
Initially, nominations for the main election are considered at a parish meeting on the first Wednesday in November. The parishioners in attendance vote to decide whether they will elect the Douzeniers and Constables themselves at the meeting or whether there should be a full election in the parish. At least seven parishioners must vote in favour for a full election to go ahead.
All stages of the election process are announced in the Gazette Officielle (published at the back of the Guernsey Press).
After election, Constables and Douzeniers are sworn in by the Royal Court.
To be eligible to be a Douzenier or Constable you must live in the parish, be at least 18 years old and have lived in Guernsey for the previous two years (or for periods adding up to at least five years in total). You must not have had a prison sentence of more than six months in the previous five years. Jurats of the Royal Court are not eligible.
Douzeniers are meant to represent their community so they can come from all walks of life. The more diversity the better so that there are a variety of voices around the table, fully representing the parish.
The main skill you need is a passion for your parish and a willingness to dedicate time and energy to listening to your parishioners and working to improve your local community.
Different members of the Douzaine bring different perspectives. You may be an accountant so focus on the numbers. You may be a parent so understand the issues for local schools and playgrounds. You may like to write and be able to help with the parish magazine.
Constables also come from all walks of life but theirs is more of a management role and therefore experience of running a business, charity or other initiative will help.
Parishes do not run any specific training for Douzeniers or Constables.
You will learn on the job with the support of the Constables, the Dean, the parish secretary and other Douzeniers.
When taking on new activities, eg checking hedges and streams, you are likely to be twinned with a more experienced person.
Douzaine meetings are held in the evenings, usually on a Monday, so it is entirely possible to combine being a Douzenier with a full-time job. The meetings take place at the Douzaine Rooms and last about two hours.
Meetings of any sub-committees that you volunteer to join are held at a time that suits all the participants.
You may occasionally be asked to represent the Douzaine at a commemorative event, eg Remembrance Sunday.
Being a Constable is more time-consuming than being a Douzenier and a lot of the work happens during the day so it is unlikely you could combine being a Constable with having a full-time job.
Different parishes and different Constables vary in their approach to the role. Some Constables take on a lot of personal responsibility, others delegate more to parish staff and the Douzeniers.
Being a Douzenier is a purely voluntary role to help your community.
Constables receive a nominal ‘honorarium’ payment which is set at a different amount in each parish. Ask your parish office for details.
You will be working in a team to support your local community, ensuring that your parish is well maintained and looking at its best.
You will really get to know your parish, discovering parts you didn’t know existed.
Some Douzaines can be traditional and reluctant to embrace change.
The responsibilities of the Douzaine are reducing over time, as services are centralised by the States of Guernsey. However, that also means there are opportunities to modernise and take a new approach.
Vale Parish’s ‘A Day in the Life of the Douzaine’.
Deputy Shane Langlois’ ‘Guernsey’s Douzaines in the 21st Century‘ – a brief history.
Renting out parish land (article courtesy of Guernsey Press)