Billionaire brothers lose Sark reform challenge

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The Independent Online

The billionaire owners of the Daily Telegraph newspapers lost their Supreme Court bid today to force the island of Sark to change its constitution.

Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, who also own the Ritz Hotel, had been hoping to successfully argue that the tiny Channel Island’s new constitution did not live up to the electoral standards expected of European and UK human rights law. But five judges have unanimously refused to declare the Reform (Sark) Law 2008 “incompatible” with human rights legislation and rejected their case.

The twin brothers own a large castle on the nearby island of Brecqhou but also own significant amounts of territory on Sark itself. They have frequently clashed with the more traditional political elements on the island which, until recently, remained Europe’s last feudal state.

After a long running campaign by the Barclay brothers to make the island's legislature – known as the Chief Pleas – more democratic, Sark’s constitution was finally changed and the first democratic elections were held in December 2008. The island’s 500 voters elected 28 members to the new Chief Pleas.

But the Barclay brothers believed the reforms did not go far enough because two key members of the Chief Pleas – the seigneur and the seneschal – were still not elected. Their lawyers argued that having two unelected members in a single chamber legislature contravened Article 3 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights which protects “the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature.”

But the five Supreme Court judges – Lords Hope, Scott, Brown, Neuberger and Collins – disagreed.

Last year’s election on Sark turned out to be a deeply bitter affair with inhabitants divided over their political future.

Voters were largely spit among two factions, one which broadly supported old style feudalism or limited reform on the island, and another faction that supported those candidates that were aligned with the Barclay twins.

In the end Sark voted overwhelmingly in favour of the faction opposed to the Barclay brothers who only managed to get two of their supporters into the Chief Pleas.

Shortly after the vote was announced the brothers shut down many of their business interests on the island putting up to 100 people out of work. Donations to help the newly unemployed flooded in, however, and the Barclay brothers’ properties were reopened a few weeks later.