lthough you probably don?t think that the Jersey law of contracts is very interesting, it?s a bit like one of those discreet ?clubs? lurking in the darker corners of Amsterdam ? because behind a boring-looking façade lurks i) a smoky, confusing haze and ii) a surprisingly large hole. This is because, unlike most European jurisdictions, Jersey doesn?t actually have a statute on contracts.
Therefore, instead of looking up a nice, easy-to-read law with clear provisions setting out exactly how you can get your money back if a garage has sold you a steaming pile of elephant dung with wheels, you basically have to analyse what would have happened if someone had sold you the same car in 13th century Normandy. As cars weren?t invented for another seven hundred-odd years, this can often prove to be a bit tricky (unless you have a time machine, in which case Gordon Brown would like to have a word with you about how he can use it to fix the mess he spent the last ten years creating).
Even though large parts of modern Jersey trust and company laws are based upon English precedents, our contract law remains stubbornly rooted in the customary law of Normandy. This is not ideal ? when you think about it, contractual relationships (whether in writing or otherwise) permeate society at every level. If you buy a Mars Bar, you?re entering into a contract with the newsagent. When you go to work, you?re performing a contract with your employer.
Contracts are supposed to bring certainty, yet there is a serious level of confusion here – in fact, until relatively recently, the best advice you could get from an Advocate on a contract dispute was ?I can?t be sure, but I reckon that this is what the court would do. Although it depends on whether the Bailiff is in a good mood that morning. And it?ll cost you, ooh, about £20k to find out. Maybe more if my wife decides that she really needs that new conservatory.?
Of course, you can?t contract to do something illegal ? so you couldn?t enforce a deal requiring Senor Escobar to supply you with a nosebag-full of cocaine or Don Corleone to ?take care? of a business rival. However, this doesn?t stop people trying, and so this month I?d like to direct your attention to the frankly twisted goings-on in Brisbane?s District Court, where news has emerged of a family arrangement so unpleasant that Jeremy Kyle and Jerry Springer have agreed to fight to the death for the right to have the protagonists on their show.
At this point, I should probably mention that the daughter in question was 12 years old. And by ?act as a surrogate?, I mean ?have sex with her stepfather two or three times a day, taking time off school if that gets in the way?. Presumably while her mum looked on approvingly, or maybe baked them both cakes for afterwards. Mmm.
This carried on for four years, during which time the stepfather drew up a contract setting out how the girl would attempt to conceive his child and in return for her charitable actions would get to keep any ?baby bonus? benefits. She was also encouraged to keep a diary featuring a fictional boyfriend called ?Luke?, who would be blamed for the pregnancy if and when it arrived.
Somehow the Aussie authorities got wind of this fairytale story, and arrested the stepfather, who promptly produced his contract and pointed to the part where the girl had agreed to do the nasty. To his genuine surprise, the policemen didn?t say ?Oh, that?s alright then? and politely leave, but dragged him kicking and screaming to the station, following which he was sentenced to eight years? imprisonment (the mother got six months). Chief Justice Paul de Jersey (no, really) said the contract reached between the man, his wife and stepdaughter was ?bizarre and grossly reprehensible?. Which rather neatly fits the words contract, Jersey, and bizarre into the same paragraph ? what more could you ask for?