Thursday, 16 August 2018
At the end of my last blog, I said that even though I was not an enemy of the Parish system, I would inevitably be portrayed as one for trying to hold the system and those involved in it to account.
Oh how right I was! I seem to have struck one hell of a nerve!
It is a very long running tradition in Jersey that if you stick your head above the parapet or try to speak truth to power, the establishment types will do what they can to run you down and publicly disparage you, even if they're not able to use facts to do so. This is part of the "Jersey Way" that Francis Oldham rightly criticised in the report of the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry. It is also symptomatic of the undemocratic nature in which Jersey is run. When you do not have a proper democratic culture, many do not know how to properly respond to democratic criticisms, so you get what I have faced over the last couple of weeks.
My full blog which made several observations and criticisms of how the Parishes administer themselves and contribute in the States Assembly can be read here - http://sammezec.blogspot.com/2018/08/the-parish-system-what-democracy.html
In short, my main criticisms centre on these points -
- The Constables routinely bring forward propositions in the States to reduce democratic participation.
- Many Parish meetings are held in private, with virtually no information put into the public domain about what happens at these meetings.
- Elections for Parish positions are not held in a transparent way
Treason! How dare I make these observations which are totally untrue, and how dare I speak when I am clearly so misinformed and ignorant!
Or at least that is the response from sections of the Parishes.
The first full response to my blog was published on Tony Bellow's blog, by someone called Adam Gardiner. It can be read here - http://tonymusings.blogspot.com/2018/08/the-truth-about-parish-system.html
It is titled "The Truth About The Parish System" which is a pretty gutsy name, given there is not much truth in it.
Both myself and local blogger Gabriel Carter attempted to publish responses on this post, but for some reason Tony has not published any of them. Obviously when it comes to the Parishes, the debate is closed.
Mr Gardiner attempts to make 6 corrections, which were either demonstrably not true, failures at being pedantic, or not actually corrections at all, but a rather justification of the status quo.
You may wish to have both posts open in separate browsers to follow along, otherwise my commentary would look messy if I copied every reference point.
The first "correction" is that I am wrong to say that the Comité des Connétables recently brought a proposition to the States to reduce polling hours for elections for the position of Procureur de bien Public to 12pm to 8pm.
This is a bit of a weird correction given that what I said it just true. Like... it just is. It happened. The proposition was lodged (P.89/2019) and the debate happened.
The Public Elections Law currently says that public elections must have polling hours from 8am to 8pm. The Comité wanted to change it to 12pm to 8pm. That's the fact. That's what happened. It's all on public record.
His "correction" centres on a pedantic point that the law used to state that polling hours for Procureur elections were reduced, but after an oversight in subsequent amendments to the law, this section fell away and the situation reverted to the full polling hours instead.
Well, sorry Mr Gardiner, but regardless of whether the law was expressly changed or simply fell away, both have the same effect. The law was changed, and the Comité tried to change it back.
His second correction revolves around my comments that the Constables wanted to move a proposed public referendum from a Saturday to a Wednesday, because holding it on a Saturday would be a "nuisance".
You see, it wouldn't be a nuisance, it would just be impractical...
It is bizarre reading a correction that isn't a correction, but actually reiterating the exact point I was making. It's not a nuisance, it's just impractical. Ummm... what's the difference?
Thirdly, I was wrong to say that the Constables increase the number of signatures required to call a Parish Assembly from 4 to 10, even though that is exactly what I did. But I'm wrong to say they did it, because they were right to have done it, apparently.
That isn't a correction, it's just a subjective justification for their actions.
Although he makes a fine dig at Reform Jersey for being ones to complain about signatories anyway. Again, this is another example of facts not mattering, because if Mr Gardiner had paid real attention to our nomination form debacle, he'd know that the Royal Court ruled that our nomination forms were valid and legal. But, whatever, facts don't matter!
I'm not sure the fourth "correction" needs addressing, given that it clearly isn't a correction. I made a justified criticism of the Parishes holding important public meetings at times that are inconvenient or unattractive for most Parishioners. I preferred to watch the England match in the World Cup, rather than going to my Parish Rates Assembly. But, hey, the 99% of us St Helier residents who prefer football to Parish Assemblies are wrong, and the 5 or so people who did turn up are right!
Fifth, I said that there is no information online whatsoever on when the Parish Roads Committee election are.
Mr Gardiner says I am wrong.
Perhaps he can have a quick check of www.parish.gov.je and tell me where there are any details of when the next elections are. If not the exact date, at least the month or year.
Of course, they are no where to be found.
He says that all Parish Assemblies are advertised in the Gazette. This is true. They are advertised with a few days notice.
It is also quite amusing that when I point out that St Ouen did not have even the names of their Roads Committee members on their website, Mr Gardiner attempts to pin it on me for not letting St Ouen know they had not done this. But, I suppose everything is my fault.
Sixth, I said that (at the time of writing) there was virtually no information online about the upcoming Procureur nomination meetings, so prospective candidates or Islanders who were interested could be aware of them. He said I was wrong to say this, even though the record shows that what I said was accurate. I don't even know why Mr Gardiner bothers taking this stance when it's just nothing more than naysaying.
He says that vote.je was set up for general elections, not parish elections. Unfortunately for him, that isn't the relevant distinction. The law in Jersey defines elections as either Public Elections or Parish Assembly Elections. The former is a full public ballot, the latter is a meeting in the Parish where the vote is taken then and there. Procureur elections are Public Elections, exactly the same as Senators, Deputies and Constables. Vote.je was set up to cover Public Elections and has in the past covered Procureur elections, but did not do so this time.
My whole argument is that putting this information online is not difficult when there already exists the right forum to do it.
Lastly, the final point isn't even an attempt at a correction, but just a last ditch attempt to condescend to someone from behind a computer screen.
He says "SM chose to go into politics and needs to understand that not all agree with him."
This is just condescending and patronising. It's also illogical. If I believed everyone agreed with me, why would I have published a blog which overtly said at the start that there is not just one perspective on how the Parishes are run? If I thought everyone had the same opinion as me, I'd have kept quiet because I'd have had nothing to write about.
He then says "debate and consensus is the way to achieve change and is called democracy - whereas peddling misinformation on a website is not!". I couldn't agree more, but maybe this pot should leave the kettle alone.
Here's my take on it - If you're going to throw your toys out of the pram because you don't like what someone stands for, use facts and reason. Don't claim someone is pedalling misinformation, when actually you are the one who has got pretty much everything wrong.
The second batch of criticism came from the newly elected Constable of St Ouen, Richard Buchanan. This can be read in the JEP here - https://jerseyeveningpost.com/news/2018/08/14/criticism-of-parish-system-on-ministers-blog-rejected/
First things first, I like Richard. He's a sensible guy and has made some good contributions early on in this term. We have different perspectives on politics, but we both care about the Island and I've enjoyed working with him so far. We can have our banter with no hard feelings.
But he does use words like "misinformed" and "lack of understanding" without really elaborating to show what exactly it is that I've got wrong.
The central point he takes issue with is when I said that the Parishes (except St Helier) hold their Roads Committee meetings in private. He says that no one has ever asked to attend a St Ouen's Roads Committee meeting, and he probably wouldn't say no if someone did ask.
The problem though is that there is virtually nothing online that says what the St Ouen's Roads Committee does, when it meets, what the agendas are and the records of the minutes. If I wanted to go observe discussion on something, I don't have that information accessible, and this is part of the problem.
In fact, until just a few days ago, there was no record on the St Ouen website that they even have a Roads Committee! The names of the members were not even published.
In all fairness to Constable Buchanan, when I pointed this out to him he immediately corrected it and it is now one of the most detailed pages on the Parish website.
But much more needs to be done to improve access to information and therefore engagement with the system, and that is a discussion we need to have.
Just one final development to report on -
Since I published my blog which criticised the lack of information on the nomination meetings for Procureur de bien Public, 7 Parishes have held their nomination meetings. Apart from St Helier, the rest have not published anything on their websites to let their Parishioners know what the results of those nominations were and if there is a contested election.
When they have published the nomination meeting details in the Gazette, some have done so with just 5 or 6 days notice.
I stand by every word when I say that the Parishes are awful at promoting these elections.
Wednesday, 1 August 2018
A couple of years ago a senior Constable said in the States Assembly that Jersey's Parish system was a 'beacon of democracy'.
It's a nice thought, and you can see where he was coming from.
We have this rather unique system of local government where, at least once a month, a public meeting is held which any Parishioner can turn up to speak and vote for or against a binding motion on matters within the Parishes competency. Not only that, but Parishioners set the budget and vote on what level of local tax they pay. Pretty nifty! Where else trusts its population to be the sovereign decision makers in this way? Not many places I can think of. Isn't that wonderful?
Well... no. It isn't wonderful.
As lovely as the concept may be, the fact of the matter is that the Parishes are far from the democratic beacons they theoretically could be. In many instances, they actually operate in way which is unashamedly anti-democratic.
I'm provoked to get this off my chest here because of a recent incident in the States Assembly where the Comité des Connétables was so brazen in their contempt for democracy, that even I was a bit surprised at the hubris they showed.
The States recently debated P.89/2013 which was brought forward by the Comité des Connétables to change the law to reduce polling hours in elections for Procureur de Bien Public from 8am-8pm to 12pm-8pm.
Yes, you read that correctly. They actually went to the efforts of bringing a proposition to the States to reduce the amount of time that people can turn out to vote in.
On an Island which we know suffers from appallingly low election turnouts and poor engagement with Parish democracy, they wanted to make it even less convenient to take part.
There is no reason for doing this at all, apart from the Parishes finding facilitating elections to be a bit of a nuisance and wanting to mitigate it.
Well, I'm sorry to say to the Constables, that democracy is meant to be a nuisance. It's difficult, it's noisy, it costs money and it often doesn't go the way you want it to. But it's democracy and it's sacrosanct.
This move was anti-democratic. The States saw through it and managed to embarrass the Constables enough into withdrawing it when some of the new Constables stood to speak out against it (which is a positive sign).
But this is not an isolated incident.
The day before, the Constables brought an amendment to move a proposed referendum from being held on a Saturday to being on a Wednesday instead. Something which was done purely because holding a public vote is a nuisance for the Parishes, irrespective of the obvious fact that a Saturday would be more convenient for the vast majority of the voting population to vote on.
Just before the recent election, the Constables brought a proposition to change the law to introduce a new criterion for being allowed to stand for election as Constable, that you must be a British citizen. That requirement did not exist before. A group of politicians, 11 out of 12 of whom did not face a contested election last time (some have never faced one), actually went out of their way to reduce the number of people who could potentially be candidates for their office.
In 2014, just after the previous election, the Constables brought a proposition to increase the number of people that are required to sign a letter forcing a Parish Assembly on a proposition, from 4 to 10, despite there having not been a single example of Parish Assemblies being called vexatiously.
As well as these clear incidents of the Constables trying to roll back democracy in Jersey, I think it is worth passing comment on a few other areas that just show how dead the system is.
These are the regular meetings held in the Parish Halls for Parishioners to vote on matters which the Parish is responsible for. Anyone can turn up and speak, or even propose amendments or their own propositions.
In theory, it doesn't get more democratic than this. In practice, it is no such thing.
Turn out at Parish Assemblies is very low. At the St Helier Rates Assembly last year, aside from members of the municipality, there were 5 members of the public in attendance. I couldn't tell you how many were there this year, but I bet it was pretty poor too, seeing as the meeting was organised to be held at the same time England were playing in the World Cup Quarter Final (I was watching the match, not at the Town Hall). Would it have been too difficult to just have it on another night? There really is no excuse for this.
But, ironically, on an occasion where there is a big turnout for a Parish Assembly, they can't even get that right either.
For example, earlier this year there was a massive turnout for a Parish Assembly held in St Lawrence to decide whether the Parish Church would be extended provide toilet facilities. Initially, the Constable refused to hold the Parish Assembly at all, even though 10 Parishioners signed a letter demanding one (as they are entitled to under the law). Then eventually she had to cave in, and decided to ban the media from attending! You couldn't make it up.
In the end, 500 people turned up and could not be adequately accommodated in the Parish Hall, with people having to stand outside in the freezing cold for hours.
There is no reason whatsoever why that meeting had to be held in the Parish Hall itself. They could have convened in a bigger premises to accommodate everyone, but chose not too. This was unfair and inconsiderate for the attendees, and will no doubt have put people off taking part in this sort of thing in future.
These committees are the closest things we have to local councils. Their members are elected at a Parish Assembly every 3 years.
There is no information whatsoever online about when these elections will next take place. Some Parishes don't even have the names of the people who serve on them on the Parishes website.
Apart from in St Helier, all of their meetings are closed to the public, so there is no accountability.
The most recent election in St Helier took place on 20th December, a few days before Christmas, with an ad hoc hustings beforehand which the organisers made up as they went along.
I met with the previous Comité to suggest to them that it would actually improve engagement if they synchronised these elections so they could publicise them together and create a real focus on Parish democracy. I left with no confidence that this simple idea would be adopted.
On 12th September there are due to be elections for Procureurs de Bien Public in each Parish. The nominations are imminent and there is almost nothing at all on vote.je or the Parishes websites about this role and how to become a candidate. At the time of writing, only 5 Parishes have confirmed when the nomination meeting will take place (which they are doing with just a few days notice).
Honestly, how difficult is it to sit down and consolidate this information and just stick out a press release so people are able to figure out what is going on?
The Parishes have struggled to recruit to the honorary police for several years now. St Saviour was fined £5,000 in 2015 for not being able to meet their legal obligations in filling particular roles.
Earlier this year two former Centeniers publicly stated that they feared the honorary police system will die out unless work is done to reform and modernise it. They were instantly dismissed by the new chair of the Comité.
So far the most innovative suggestion made by the Constables has been to raise the age at which you have to retire from the honorary police. I wonder if they realise that all that does is delay the problem reaching a head by a few years and doesn't actually solve the underlying recruitment problems.
I have been concerned about all of this for some time, and now is my opportunity to do something about it.
Since my appointment as Minister for Housing and, more recently, Minister for Children too, I've been getting to grips with being on the "other side" of politics, trying to make a difference in government rather than shout from the opposition benches. It's a very sobering experience and I'm finding it frustrating how slowly the wheels seem to turn to be able to impact change. But it is still early days and I'm rearing to go and looking forward to developing on some of the things we have begun behind the scenes (watch this space!).
But one thing which is giving me withdrawal symptoms is that I am now not able to ask questions on the floor of the States Assembly of Ministers. In the last Assembly I was 2nd on the list of members who asked most questions (Geoff Southern was number 1, of course), and I believe that question time is a fundamentally important way of holding the government to account. But now with my new responsibility, I have to ask my questions round the ministerial table and make sure there is early feedback as policies are developed so we get things right.
I am delighted that my new colleagues Deputy Alves and Deputy Ward are taking up the mantle and proving to be excellent contributors in the Assembly right away. But, as for me, since I can't ask my parliamentary questions of my ministerial colleagues, I can ask the Comité des Connétables questions and hold them to account on Parish matters in the Assembly.
Now, most right thinking democrats know that the Constables shouldn’t be in the States anyway, but since they’re there, I am making it my intention to hold them to account for everything they do.
They are not the beacons of democracy some think they are. In fact, they are showing themselves to be the opposite.
It's sink or swim time. Modernise and get with the times, or become an irrelevancy.
I happen to think it's important to have a healthy democratic municipal government system and I want to see it thrive in Jersey. This doesn't make me an enemy of the Parish system, although that is certainly how they will try to tar me for having the sheer nerve to hold them to account.
If you are concerned by any Parish matters at all, please get in touch and I'll be happy to try to raise these issues in the Assembly.
Monday, 4 June 2018
AGREEMENT BETWEEN REFORM JERSEY AND SENATOR JOHN LE FONDRÉ ON SUPPORT FOR FORMING A GOVERNMENT
Following constructive discussions and negotiations, Reform Jersey States Members are committed to supporting the candidacy of Senator John Le Fondré in the election for Chief Minister on 4th June 2018.
This support is offered conditionally on the understanding that both parties agree to the following terms –
Over the last 4 years, Reform Jersey and Senator Le Fondré have both voiced their concerns in the States Assembly over the direction Jersey was moving in under the incumbent Council of Ministers. Both recognised the disillusionment many members of the public feel about Jersey’s political system because of the dysfunctional way the States has often worked.
In his candidate statement for Chief Minister, Senator Le Fondré explains his concerns over the way that the benefits of economic growth have not been felt by most Islanders, many of whom are now worse off today than they would have been five years ago. He says - “We simply cannot allow this situation to continue and have to develop policies which address the complex socio-economic problems to provide real opportunities for all and not just a few”. This is a sentiment shared by Reform Jersey in their manifesto ‘Working for a Fairer Island’.
Whilst Senator Le Fondré and Reform Jersey have often taken different positions on States policies over the previous electoral term, both stated in the general election campaign that they wished to see a more inclusive government for this term and wanted to work constructively with others to see public services improve. Both parties believe that the election results demonstrate a mandate for change in line with this vision.
Whilst Reform Jersey and Senator Le Fondré have previously differed in their policies on improving the standard of living for Islanders, it is now agreed that this should be a key priority in the next Strategic Plan, with a focus on reducing poverty.
Both Reform Jersey and Senator Le Fondré placed significant emphasis in their election manifestos on the importance of ensuring Jersey is represented at the highest levels throughout the Brexit negotiations to ensure that Jersey’s place in the world is secured.
It was a stated priority in Reform Jersey’s manifesto that the next government must implement the recommendations of the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry, which Senator Le Fondré has also included in his candidate statement for Chief Minister.
Forming a government
If elected as Chief Minister, Senator Le Fondré will initially nominate Senator Sam Mézec for the position of Housing Minister, then, following the introduction of the upcoming changes to ministerial government, he will be nominated as Minister for Children.
Other Reform Jersey States Members will contest further ministerial posts on 7th & 8th June.
In the event of them not being voted into other ministerial roles, Assistant Minister positions will be offered to Deputies Montfort Tadier (in Culture) and Geoff Southern (in Social Security).
Working together in government
It is agreed that no version of collective responsibility shall apply to Reform Jersey members in government which would require them to vote against what was committed to in their manifesto. Where their political positions are irreconcilable, they will agree to disagree.
It is agreed that Reform Jersey members will have the absolute freedom to pursue their 10 key election pledges, both inside government and from the backbenches.
Reform Jersey members will continue to robustly oppose any policy which they believe will exacerbate poverty on the Island.
Reform Jersey members in government will abide by all parts of the Ministerial Code of Conduct and will not use information obtained in their government capacities for party purposes.
Senator Le Fondré has committed to improving communication amongst Ministers and Assistant Ministers, including ensuring that all Assistant Ministers are able to access all the information provided to their Ministers.
It is agreed that Jersey’s Income Tax and Social Security Contributions systems will be examined to determine the appropriateness of potential reforms (including those specified in Reform Jersey’s manifesto). Further work will also be done to assess the relationship between taxation and Income Support (including the disregards) and work shall be done to review the supplementation system.
It is agreed that the Minimum Wage shall be progressively increased towards £10ph, with consideration given to benefits in kind provided by employers in agriculture and hospitality.
It is agreed that legislation will be introduced to define zero-hours contracts in law and regulate them to end their inappropriate use.
It is agreed that improved parental leave provisions, access to dentists for children and cheaper access to GPs will be aspired to, subject to sustainable funding mechanisms being found from Social Security Contributions reform.
It is agreed that a working party will be set up to consider how further responsibilities on local matters can be transferred to the Parish of St Helier, in line with commitments for urban regeneration.
It is agreed that discussions will begin with the Jersey Electricity Company to explore options for increased use of renewable energy in Jersey.
It is agreed that workforce modernisation negotiations will be re-opened, with the principle of collective bargaining restored.
It is agreed that a Policy Development Board on Social and Affordable Housing will be established, which will work with the Housing Minister to research and develop a fair rent regulation system for social and private accommodation. Social housing (i.e. Andium) rents will be frozen whilst this work takes place. Further work will be done to agree measures to encourage unused properties to be available on the market, including an empty property tax. An investigation will take place on external purchasers of property to reduce that demand.
Duration of the agreement
Both Reform Jersey and Senator Le Fondré sign up to this agreement in good faith, on the understanding that both parties wish to serve in Jersey’s best interests for the four-year term. If one party to this agreement does not uphold their obligations as stated, then the other can withdraw from the agreement if no reconciliation is possible.
Monday, 5 March 2018
Sam Mézec to stand for Senator
Reform Jersey’s party chairman, Deputy Sam Mézec, has announced that he will seek election as a Senator in the forthcoming General Election.
Deputy Sam Mézec said - “With the backing of Reform Jersey members, I have chosen to stand for election as Senator in this election because I want to seek a mandate from across the whole Island for our manifesto.
Over the last 10 years, the States has lost sight of what should be its number one aim – improving life for ordinary Islanders. I believe that we must spend the next few years deliberately reversing the trends which have seen a drastic increase in poverty and a frozen standard of living. This will be the main focus of my campaign.
I am determined that the next government must be more politically inclusive and improve the way it deals with the issues facing Jersey, rather than replicate the unedifying debates we have seen on the new hospital and population control.
During the last term, I believe I have provided a strong opposition voice and have robustly held the government to account over its mistakes. But in this next term, I want to be at the forefront of delivering positive change.
I have spent my time as a Deputy fighting for increased wages for the low paid, for improved support for the vulnerable and against wasteful States spending. If elected as a Senator, I believe I will be better placed to take a proactive approach to improving the way the States works on behalf of Islanders.
I will be standing alongside other Reform Jersey candidates, with a shared manifesto which has at its core our main ambition of pursuing policies which will raise the standard of living for all Islanders.”
Notes to the editor
- Deputy Mézec is 27 years old and has been the youngest member of the States since March 2014.
- He currently serves as:
- Chairman of the Care of Children in Jersey Review Panel- In his spare time, he plays electric guitar in the rock band FlashMob
- Vice-chairman of the Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny Panel
Friday, 13 October 2017
Being a politician is a pretty surreal experience on the best of days. It's never dull and even in Jersey we often find ourselves lucky enough to enjoy a political theatre that matches up to the excitement of other jurisdictions (or at least it does if you're a geek like me).
Today was strange.
Once again, our Chief Minister has gone abroad to represent the Island and meet representatives of other governments to promote Jersey. I have no problem with that.
Again, he has met with representatives of countries which have human rights records that are less than impressive. I also have no problem with that.
But what I can't get my head around is Senator Gorst's choice of words.
After meeting with Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa (the Finance Minister of Bahrain), he tweeted a picture of the two of them together with a caption saying he was "honoured" to meet him.
The Chief Minister has met some interesting people in his line of work. Whether they be Kings and Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers, or even ordinary Jersey folk who have done extraordinary things. How does Sheikh Al-Khalifa match up to them?
He is not a democratic politician. He is a member of the ruling family of Bahrain which has been in charge for hundreds of years, ruling with an iron fist and having zero-tolerance for opposition.
Torture is widespread. Since the 2011 Arab Spring protests, a hundred dissidents have been murdered and thousands have been wounded. They even called in the Wahabist and ISIS-backing Saudi Arabian military to help them brutally put down these protests.
Basically, these people are really nasty.
Why is it an honour to meet someone like him? Why was this word necessary?
I get that part of diplomacy and politics means that you have to meet with people you disagree with. Sometimes it means meeting with nasty people if it's for the greater good. But what is the benefit of cosying up to people and inflating their ego by acting as if there isn't something fundamentally wrong with their agenda?
Sheikh Al-Khalifa and his tyrannical family have blood on their hands. It's not an honour to meet them. At best, it's just business.
But things got even stranger when States Members received an advance copy of a press release on this subject.
Here is the relevant bit -
The Chief Minister has also met with His Excellency Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa, who has been Minister of Finance in the Kingdom of Bahrain since January 2005. Minister Al Khalifa is also a member of the Development Committee of the World Bank Group and IMF.
Jersey and Bahrain have a long-standing relationship and the Chief Minister will be making an official visit to Bahrain later this year to enhance Jersey’s commercial and political links with the Kingdom.
Senator Gorst commented: “We place great importance on the Island’s positive relationship with the Kingdom of Bahrain, and I was pleased to be able to meet with His Excellency to discuss future opportunities for partnership between our jurisdictions.”
Apparently Jersey has a long-standing relationship with Bahrain.
Did you know that? I didn't.
Jersey does not have any people from Bahrain living in Jersey at all, according to the last census. I doubt many Jersey people live in Bahrain.
We have a long-standing relationship with France. We don't have one with Bahrain. It's just silly to say we do.
These comments just aren't serious.
Is it too much to ask that our leaders speak plainly and cut this sort of unnecessary BS? It just looks a bit silly.
Tuesday, 22 August 2017
In September, the States Assembly will have it's first opportunity to vote on one of the recommendations of the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry when it debates P.62/2017 lodged by Deputy Tadier to split the dual role of the Bailiff and allow the States to elect it's own Speaker.
In fact, not only will it be a chance to adopt a recommendation from the £23m ICJI, but also to adopt some of the recommendations of the Clothier Review and the Carswell Review, all of which have said that Jersey needs to introduce a Separation of Powers if it has any hope of meeting modern democratic standards.
The IJCI said that this had to be considered as part of a deliberate drive to eradicate the perception of the "Jersey Way" which has been prevalent in our community for decades, where many people distrust the Island's "establishment" and believe it acts only to perpetuate their own self interest at the expense of the vulnerable.
So, without a hint of irony, in the run up to this debate, the Bailiff William Bailhache, has written to the Chief Minister in an attempt to perpetuate his own self interest by trying to influence his conduct in this upcoming debate.
The full letter can be read from page 6 here - http://www.statesassembly.gov.je/assemblypropositions/2017/p.62-2017com.pdf
The key paragraph reads -
"However, in the forthcoming debate, I should be grateful for your assurance that you will not take the line that the Care Enquiry's Recommendation 7 is a reason for supporting the proposition of Deputy Tadier, or indeed for re-visiting the issue of the Bailiff's role generally."
Let's put that in simple English - an unelected judge (and supposedly impartial Speaker) has written to an elected Chief Minister to instruct him to disregard the evidence and findings of a £23m Inquiry whilst pursuing his policies.
This is absolutely unacceptable in a democracy.
Of course William Bailhache is entitled to his opinion as an individual, but as our Speaker, he is not entitled to use his position to influence our elected politicians. In doing so, he has shown himself to be unfit to hold the office he does, and has shown how absolutely imperative it is that the States votes to relinquish him of these responsibilities.
He has epitomised the Jersey Way that Francis Oldham QC had criticised in the ICJI report.
If John Bercow (Speaker of the House of Commons) did something like this, he would be expelled by the afternoon.
The full letter is an illuminating read.
In the letter, Bailhache attempts to explain why there is no problem with the dual role of the Bailiff and makes an argument which is not only poor, but is just plain weird because of how illogical it is.
He says -
"The system which we have, for the record, does not come nearly as close to breaching the rules around the separation of powers as did that in the UK as recently as 2005. There, the Lord Chancellor was not only a member of the judiciary and the legislature, but also a member of the Cabinet with executive responsibilities."
Spot the problem with this argument?
He refers to a situation WHICH DOESN'T EXIST ANYMORE.
How on Earth does a Bailiff consider it a good argument to compare Jersey to a bad system which no longer exists and was deliberately changed by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, to split the multiple roles held by the Lord Chancellor?
2017 Jersey may well be better than pre-2005 UK. But the UK accepted this was wrong and now 2017 UK has a better system than 2017 Jersey. That surely is a demonstration that we are too slow to reform ourselves and that there is a problem with the current system.
He goes on with -
"Dicey, that great English constitutional lawyer of the 19th century did not regard that position with disfavour."
Now, every person who has studied law has heard of Dicey. He was no Lord Denning (#legend), but someone we were all taught about. His main work 'Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution' was published in 1885.
William Bailhache is arguing that the lack of separation of powers is okay because some bloke wrote 132 years ago that it wasn't a big deal.
In fact, not just some bloke. Dicey was a staunch anti-democrat.
He opposed every single proposal to offer Ireland more autonomy from the UK (and many have paid with their lives in the conflict which that attitude helped create) and he was a staunch opponent of women's suffrage.
I really don't think that it's a wise argument to reference what an anti-democrat wrote 132 years ago to justify the dual role of the Bailiff in 2017.
"It is right also to add that my own experience is that there are a number of very senior thinkers in the United Kingdom, including senior judges, who do not regard the constitutional changes of 2005 with favour."
Because judges are of course well known for being beacons of progressivism!
"They have led to a hard edged angularity which is unhelpful, as was witnessed by the failure of senior politicians there adequately to defend the judiciary against the disgraceful attack by some part of the media (describing the judges as "Enemies of the people") following the decision in the administrative court on the lawfulness of the government's proposed Brexit strategy."
Now, when he says "senior politicians", what he should mean is the hard-right, Brexiteer Tory MPs who are so hell bent on leaving the EU that they don't care what it does to the British economy or what impact it has on British democracy. Labour politicians were at the vanguard of defending the independence of the judiciary throughout that process, and they cannot be lumped in together with right-wing politicians who were blinded by their extreme agenda.
But the example of the Supreme Court ruling on the lawfulness of the government's Brexit strategy is actually a very helpful one for those who support the separation of powers.
The government led by Theresa May and packed full of hard Brexiteers like David Davis and Boris Johnson believed that they had the right to unilaterally trigger Article 50 and begin the process of withdrawing the UK from the European Union. A member of the public disagreed and challenged this in court, arguing that as Britain's parliament is supreme, Article 50 could only be lawfully triggered after a vote in both Houses of Parliament. The government challenged this view at every step along the way (costing the taxpayer a pretty penny in the process).
The British courts, including the most senior court of the land, ruled against the government and hugely embarrassed them by forcing the Prime Minister to tear up her plans and go down a different route instead.
The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom defended the principle of parliamentary sovereignty and upheld British constitutional law by stopping a government dead in their tracks and forcing them to change their illegal plans.
That was a true example of what an independent judiciary can do to a government which is abusing its position and acting ultra vires.
How does William Bailhache think that the pre-2005 courts could have possibly dealt with this situation any better, when they would have been headed up by a member of the government which was prepared to act illegally?
It is an argument which is so illogical and unnecessary, that it only seeks to highlight the importance of Jersey reforming its constitution to ensure that the public can be truly secure knowing that their judiciary exists to defend their rights and uphold the rule of law, no matter what the whims of a here today gone tomorrow government may be, and which will not be subjected to undue political interference, or vice versa.
I'm optimistic we will get there sooner rather than later and I am certain that the letter from William Bailhache will have the exact opposite effect he intended.
Thursday, 27 July 2017
Following the publication of the report investigating child abuse in Jersey, the Chief Minister invited me to be a member of an advisory panel he has set up to advise him on implementing the recommendations of the report.
I thought long and hard about whether I could make a positive difference if I took up this role, but sadly have come to the conclusion that the Chief Minister is handling the aftermath of the report poorly and I am better placed to argue for positive change whilst being independent from any advisory panel.
I have considered your invitation for me to take part in an Advisory Panel to help you respond to the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry's recommendations and have decided that I cannot take part.
I wholeheartedly support the recommendations made by the Inquiry and I will vote for any proposition which I believe takes the Island forward in getting these recommendations implemented. However, I believe that I can make a more positive contribution by offering advice across the floor of the Chamber and by continuing to work in Scrutiny.
The Inquiry's report emphasises the importance of independent scrutiny. You currently have plans to bring forward a proposal to take the independence away from the States Scrutiny Panels by allowing and encouraging Assistant Ministers to sit on Scrutiny. This is being opposed by Scrutiny and the Privileges and Procedures Committee, yet you have confirmed in States question time since the publication of the report that you have no intention to abandon these changes. I believe this is a huge error which will undermine our system of government and further embed the principles of the 'Jersey Way' where those in power have influence into many areas and will be able to stifle criticism, rather than allow those who have no obligation to support a here today, gone tomorrow government to take an objective approach as an independent and critical friend.
Whatever noble intentions the government may have in its attempts to implement the recommendations, innocent mistakes may be made along the way which I would be complicit in if I take up a role in advising the government. It is vital that there remain members who are not compromised by this process, who are able to speak out and oppose potential mistakes when they arise.
You have shown that you are not prepared to exercise your whip as leader of the government to make implementing the Inquiry's recommendations a red line in government policy. That is your choice. But it is wrong to then rely on Scrutiny and Opposition members to get the support you need. Just as I believe it is important for there to be a separation between the Judiciary and the Legislature, I also believe that the Executive must not be allowed to capture the Legislature. I believe that your approach so far is taking the Island in the wrong direction.
Were I in your position, I would seek to get the support of the Council of Ministers and then allow Opposition and Scrutiny to act independently to hold us to account.
As I do not have confidence in the process you have suggested, I cannot take part in it.