What do you do if someone is occupying or infringing on your rights to your land? Yes, you could call the police, or you could bring a lawsuit against the offender.
Or you might consider summoning a prince to your aid.
The legal concept is known as Clameur de Haro. Its origins go back to medieval times. It is an ancient method of restraining someone from doing something on your land.
In many ways, it is like a citizen’s arrest, where a person who is not a law enforcement officer has the authority to make an arrest in limited circumstances. For a citizen’s arrest to be valid, it typically has to occur when a felony has been committed in the presence or with the immediate knowledge of the one who makes the arrest. If done correctly, the apprehended individual will be turned over to the proper authorities, and the person who makes the citizen’s arrest is immune from civil or criminal consequences for the action.
If it is done incorrectly, such as attempting to arrest someone for a misdemeanor offense like selling someone under the age of 12 to a circus in Georgia, the person making the arrest can be sued and criminally prosecuted for false imprisonment.
In the same way, the Clameur de Haro has to be done in the proper circumstances and the right manner. The proper circumstances typically will be on one’s property, directing the action toward someone who is doing or contemplating impermissible action on or involving that property.
The right way to invoke the Clameur de Haro is more complex than the legal principle itself. Historically, the following steps must be followed precisely:
- The person who claims to be wronged (the Criant) must invoke the Clameur de Haro at the location of the alleged offense.
- The Criant must drop to his or her knees.
- This must be done in the presence of the wrong-doer.
- It must also take place in the presence of at least two witnesses.
- With at least one hand in the air, the Criant must call out: “Haro! Haro! Haro! À l’aide, mon Prince, on me fait tort.” (Roughly translated, this means, “Hear me! Hear me! Hear me! Come to my aid, my Prince, for someone does me wrong.”)
- Having thus cried out for the assistance of mortal royalty, it is also necessary (and generally a good idea under any circumstances) to seek divine intervention. It is, therefore, necessary to pray the Lord’s Prayer. It must be recited in French, however: “Notre Père qui est aux cieux. Ton nom soit sanctifié. Ton règne vienne. Ta volonté soit faite sur la terre comme au ciel. Donne-nous aujourd’hui notre pain quotidien. Et nous pardonne nos offenses, comme nous pardonnons à ceux qui nous ont offensés. Et ne nous induis point en tentation, mais délivre-nous du mal.” (Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive our offenses just as we have forgiven those who have offended us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”)
If the Criant successfully does all of the above, the alleged wrongdoer is obligated to stop whatever it is he or she is doing until the matter can be addressed by a court of competent jurisdiction. Failure to heed a properly-called-out Clameur de Haro can result in a fine, regardless of which party is in the right.
Be careful before invoking the Clameur de Haro, however. If the Criant is deemed to have called a Clameur de Haro improperly or without adequate reason, he or she must pay a penalty.
This ancient legal injunction was used most famously in 1087. England’s King William the Conqueror had just died and was about to be buried when Asselin FitzArthur brought everything to a halt by invoking the Clameur de Haro. He claimed that the church where the king was to be buried had been built on his property and that it had been improperly seized from him.
Having gained the attention of the most powerful people in the kingdom, Asselin said, “The ground upon which you are standing, was the site of my father’s dwelling. This man, for whom you ask our prayers, took it by force from my parent; by violence he seized, by violence he retained it; and, contrary to all law and justice, he built upon it this church, where we are assembled. Publicly, therefore, in the sight of God and man, do I claim my inheritance, and protest against the body of the plunderer being covered with my turf.”
Even something as important as the funeral of the King of England had to give way to the proper invocation of the Clameur de Haro. The funeral was put on hold while the court heard Asselin’s claim. His claim was proven true, and he was duly compensated for the loss of his land.
It turned out that Asselin had good reason to object to the whole arrangement. In what was certainly one of the oddest royal funerals of all time, the overweight body of the king bloated and caused his coffin to explode in the middle of the funeral, sending the horrified mourners scrambling for cover.
While the Clameur de Haro is a matter of legal history in the United Kingdom, it does not appear to remain within its common law or in the legal traditions of its former colonies. It does, however, remain not as tradition but codified statutory law in two British dependencies, the bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey.
Jersey and Guernsey are part of the Channel Islands and have been part of the Duchy of Normandy since 933. They have been a possession of the English Crown since 1066. Many of the islands’ local laws owe their origins to the customary law of Normandy. Among these laws is the Clameur de Haro.
In Jersey, the Clameur de Haro is codified in local law 4.6.0.L10. It states that it “can be lawfully raised in cases where someone who is in possession of land is having that possession disturbed or interfered with by some specific and visible wrongful act.”
The Jersey process requires the Criant to drop to one knee, bareheaded, and hands clasped. In the presence of two witnesses and in the hearing of the alleged wrongdoer, the Criant must say, “Haro! Haro! Haro!, A l’aide mon Prince, on me fait tort.” There is no apparent need to thereafter invoke the Lord’s Prayer.
Advice to those seeking to invoke the injunction in Jersey is offered on the bailiwick’s Citizen Advice Bureau webpage. It strongly recommends consulting with legal counsel before attempting to exercise one’s right to invoke the Clameur de Haro.
In the Bailiwick of Guernsey, the Clameur de Haro is a wee bit more complex. Each and every one of the following elements must be satisfied:
- The party seeking to raise it must have had possession of the property concerned for a year and a day (although a good faith belief will suffice in cases of disputed property claims);
- There must have been an appert péril. That’s a fancy way of saying that the Criant must be in immediate peril of having his or her rights disturbed;
- It may only be raised to keep land already possessed, not to retain that which has already been taken;
- It may only be raised in respect of real property and not in relation to personal effects; and
- It may only be raised against the party carrying out the act and not against the person who instigated it.
Sark, located within the jurisdiction of Guernsey, has the specific requirement that the Criant bare his or her head and cry out before witnesses, “Haro, haro, haro! Au nom de Dieu et de la Reine, laissez ce travail… ” (Note the different wording, which is an appeal “In the name of God and of the King…”). Failure to bare the head in Sark invalidates the claim. This requirement arises out of a desire that all witnesses have a clear view of the Criant.
The appeal for help must then be followed with the Lord’s Prayer, in French (keeping in mind that the official language of the Bailiwick of Guernsey is English): “Notre Pere que es aux cieux. Ton nom soit sanctifie. Ton regne vienne. Ta volonte soit faite sur la terre comme au ciel. Donne-nous aujourd’hui notre pain quotidien. Et nous pardonne nos offences, comme nous pardonnons a ceux qui nous ont offences. Et de nous induis point en tentation, mais delivere-nous du mal. Car a toi est le regne, la puissance et la gloire, aux siecles des ciecles. La Grace de Notre Seigneur Jesus Christ, la dilection de Dieu et la sanctification du Saint Esprit soit avec nous tous eternellement. Amen.”
Once all of this is done, the Criant must file his or her grievance in writing at the court clerk (the “Greffier”) within 24 hours.
It would be understandable to view the Clameur de Haro as a quaint piece of antiquated legislation that has yet to be cleaned up, such as the prohibition against wearing a suit of armor in Parliament. It continues to be used in Jersey and Guernsey, always with great publicity, and with varying degrees of success:
- In 2016, a man from Guernsey used the Clameur de Haro to stop the construction of a Kia automobile establishment. Construction came to a stop as his claims were heard. He was ultimately unsuccessful, but the tribunal did conclude that his exercise of the Clameur de Haro was proper, so he was not penalized for invoking it.
- In 2018, a woman from Guernsey invoked the Clameur de Haro to halt a road construction project. A judge subsequently threw out the injunction because it was invoked on public property.
- In 2021, a woman from Jersey used the Clameur de Haro to stop her eviction from her home when she was unable to pay her bills. She ended up being evicted and additionally fined £50 for improperly invoking the ancient claim.