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'Overlord' of Sark is challenged

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SARK'S Seigneur's right to claim feudal dues on property sales is being challenged in the Royal Court.

SARK'S Seigneur's right to claim feudal dues on property sales is being challenged in the Royal Court. Duncan Barclay, the son of Brecqhou co-owner Sir David, is challenging the long-standing practice where the Seigneur receives one-thirteenth (7.69%) of the purchase price of a tenement.

Mr Barclay has agreed to buy La Fripponerie in Sark, which includes the Bel Air pub. But he argues that the duty, treizieme, is effectively an anachronism that can no longer be justified and is inconsistent with modern society.

The action names both Seigneur Michael Beaumont and Seneschal Reg Guille.

For the sale to be recognised by the Court of the Seneschal, the Seigneur needs to give his approval, which he does after treizieme is paid.

The practice is set to be abolished and replaced with a property tax, which Mr Beaumont has conceded.

Advocate Gordon Dawes is representing Mr Barclay and will challenge the lawfulness of treizieme.

In the cause outlining the case, he said: 'Treizieme amounts to a form of private taxation which is sought to be imposed by a feudal overlord for his personal gain.'

Guernsey 'seigneurs' sacrificed their right to claim treizieme by law in 1980 and transferred it to the Crown. It had already been reduced to just 2%.

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Proceedings moved swiftly from the Ordinary Court last week - where parties agreed that the case would be defended - to the Interlocutory Court, before Lt-Bailiff Patrick Talbot, QC.

'It's an issue that raises legal and historical interest. It's been before this court several years ago where the matter was not resolved,' said Mr Talbot.

He added that it was a politically sensitive question.

'The courts are in at least a neutral way aware of such matters.'

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Representing the Seneschal, HM Comptroller Howard Roberts, QC, applied for the case against his client to be struck off.

He argued that all the Seneschal had done was apply customary law and he would abide by any decision the court made anyway.

Advocate Dawes said the Seneschal was being actioned as a public body that, the defence argued, was acting unlawfully in that Sark received no economic benefit from treizieme and it should not be enforced by the Seneschal's Court.

Written submissions will be made on the issue.

A decision also still needs to be made about jurisdiction.

The judge set a date for a Royal Court hearing, but has yet to decide whether the case should first be heard in Sark.

Advocate Dawes argued that it would immediately be sent back to Guernsey anyway and all the parties agreed it should be heard by the Royal Court.

Mr Talbot asked them to consider whether the Royal Court should hold the treizieme while the proceedings were ongoing to help speed up the purchase.

Advocate Christian Hay is acting for Mr Beaumont.

The court heard that the Seneschal would not appear personally if the case against him went ahead.

It is set to go back before Mr Talbot on 1 August.

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