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Probate could stay with Ecclesiastical Court in policy reversal

Probate could stay with Ecclesiastical Court in policy reversal

Friday 12 February 2021

Probate could stay with Ecclesiastical Court in policy reversal

Probate services will remain with the Ecclesiastical Court, if the States agrees to rescind a resolution that was approved by the Assembly just eight months ago.

Last June, the States of Deliberation approved the previous Policy & Resources Committee's proposal to transfer personal probate from the Ecclesiastical Court - which has close links with the Church of England - to the Royal Court.

"Guernsey is one of the very few jurisdictions in the world where probate is granted and administered by a religious body,” said then-P&R President Gavin St Pier. “I think everyone - including the Dean - accept that the continuation of this system is an anachronism."

It meant that all ties to the Church would be severed and was approved in a close-run, 21-17 vote. It came under fire from some deputies - most notably, current P&R President Peter Ferbrache - who said the new model would be less cost-effective and had few - if any - practical benefits. 


Pictured: For many years, surplus income from probate was distributed by the Dean of Guernsey personally. However the current Dean, the Very Rev. Tim Barker, made changes in 2018 that have increased transparency and seen those details shared.

Deputies sided with the reforms but at a cost, agreeing to pay to an annual grant of £400,000 from States coffers to the Social Investment Fund for the first two years that the Royal Court operated grants to make up for the anticipated shortfall in charitable donations. 

It has since emerged that late last year, an alternative approach was put forward by the Dean of Guernsey. He proposed that probate services continue to be delivered by the Ecclesiastical Court with the net surplus - after the payment of all costs and a management fee - transferred to the Social Investment Fund, instead of being distributed by the Church. 

At its meeting on 26 January, P&R decided to adopt the approach and have since directed officers to draw up formal proposals. 

"The proposals will achieve similar outcomes with regards directing surplus funds to the Social Investment Fund without additional legislation, increasing the operational cost base of the States of Guernsey or incurring the cost of transformation," Policy & Resources said of its decision. 

Deputy Jonathon Le Tocq

Pictured: Policy & Resource Committee Member Jonathan Le Tocq - the only remaining member of the previous committee - was one of the most prominent voices behind the probate reforms,  which he said were well-overdue and could have been made a century ago. 

"The Committee is seeking the support of the Assembly as it is expeditious to rescind the three relevant Resolutions through the Government Work Plan and to commence the operational changes immediately given it has assured itself that the new solution delivers the majority of the outcomes originally sought by the Assembly albeit through an alternative methodology that does not require legislative change."

Deputy Peter Ferbrache, who now heads up the P&R Committee, was critical of the previous committee's proposals during last year's debate. The experienced Advocate said the administration of Guernsey's Ecclesiastical Court was "first-class" and that the proposed change was "completely unnecessary".

"It is not going to achieve any purpose except put the charge up," he warned back in June 2020. "We [Guernsey] have something that works efficiently and we [the States] want to change it."

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