How a Guernsey woman brought a construction project to a grinding halt with an ancient plea

In Guernsey, you can still clamor for justice the old-time way.
In Guernsey, you can still clamor for justice the old-time way.
Image: Reuters/Russell Boyce
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Do you long for a bygone era when rules were simple and you could just stand in the street and clamor for justice? Well, that’s still possible in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, where a woman recently protested road construction with the ancient Clameur de Haro.

The clameur is a plea spoken in French that creates an injunction upon utterance of, “Haro! Haro! Haro! A l’aide mon Prince. On me fait tort!” Or, ”Haro! Haro! Haro! Help me, my Prince. I am being wronged!”

Rosie Henderson raised the clameur on Aug. 14 by kneeling, calling for help, and reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Norman French, the Guardian reports. She protests a project to narrow a road in St. Peter Port, arguing that it will endanger both pedestrians and motorists in the self-governing UK possession.

The law Henderson invoked is enforceable and creates an immediate injunction. She had 24 hours after issuing the plea to register her claim in court. Work on the road project stopped as soon as the miffed citizen invoked the ancient rule and construction will remain halted until a court decides the case.

The clameur was first recorded in Norman law in the 13th century. Its use is believed to have originated in the 10th century as an appeal to Rollo, Viking founder of the Norman dynasty, according a 2008 article in the Jersey and Guernsey Law Review (pdf) by lawyer and legal historian Andrew Bridgeford.

Rollo was widely known for his strict sense of integrity and justice—he was the kind of leader who heard the people’s pleas. ”Haro” allegedly stems from the Norman French vernacular of yore—Rollo was known as Rou and it’s thought that “Haro” is a contraction of “Ha! Rou!”

The law was most notably invoked during the funeral of William the Conqueror in 1087. According to a 1620 account, “This clameur was practiced after the death of William the Bastard in order to prevent his burial in the church which he had himself built at Caen, on the land of a poor man which he had taken without payment.” The claim was ultimately settled for 100 pounds of silver, and William was laid to eternal rest once the claimant got due process.

Today, Bridgeford explains, the law can be invoked by any individual offended by “wrongful interference with his or her possession of immovable property.”  That’s notable because Henderson is protesting public construction, and not a tort on land she possesses, which is arguably problematic. Yet her clamor was heard and recognized, although she may still pay for the complaint.

The clameur is serious business. “[I]t enables the private individual to co-opt the power of the courts in proclaiming an injunction,” Bridgeford says. “Such a powerful tool is not to be invoked incautiously. A claimant who is found to have raised the Clameur de Haro incorrectly risks not merely a penalty in costs but also punishment for contempt of court.” 

The law has been successfully invoked relatively recently to protest public construction. In 2016, Guernsey citizens pledged to block plans to level St. Peter Port’s sunken gardens with the clameur. Authorities withdrew the proposal.