Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Reply to ex-Senator Reg Jeune on the dual role of the Bailiff

I have written a letter to the JEP following a contribution to the debate on the dual role of the Bailiff from ex-Senator Reg Jeune, which can be read here - http://www.thisisjersey.com/news/comment/2013/12/17/stop-trying-to-change-the-roles-of-the-bailiff/

But before that, a brief comment on this editorial - http://www.thisisjersey.com/news/comment/2013/12/17/knowing-what-we-vote-for/

In particular the line - "It is also a fair bet that the worst elements of the blogging community will make it the dirtiest and most unpleasant election in memory."

This is probably one of the most desperate and ignorant comments in a JEP editorial I've seen since.... well, not that long ago, to be frank.

There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to suspect that Jersey bloggers will do anything other than provide their own commentary, which people may or may not agree with, and focus on issues that may not be of interest to everyone, but most importantly, they will make sure they scrutinise the mainstream media at every opportunity. They have not done anything so far to make anyone suspect they are ready to ruin an election.

I was out of the island during the whole of the 2011 election campaign. I had to vote by post and rely on whatever information I could find online to make up my mind on who to vote for.

The blogs in Jersey were far more useful than the Jersey Evening Post. Without them, I would have been left in the dark.

They provided video interviews with any candidate that was willing to do one. They videoed parts of the election hustings. They offered alternative ways of looking at things.

The JEP's role in the election was pretty much to make sure Philip Bailhache was on the front page of the JEP everyday. Of the articles of theirs I read online, it was Philip Bailhache who was almost always quoted, to the exclusion of other candidates.

Their coverage of the election was appallingly biased and they are in absolutely no position whatsoever to criticise other forums for their contributions.

Especially when they also said this - "Voters will be further confused by a polling day referendum on the future of the Constables"

Actually, the referendum on the Constables has been dismissed by PPC. The JEP should know this, but they didn't send any reporters to the PPC meeting a few weeks ago to find out (I know because I was there and was the only member of the public). The referendum will be on the Clothier reforms as a whole, which includes Deputies distributions and the future of the Senators.

The JEP getting their facts wrong again. Shock horror!



Dear Editor,

I write with reference to the letter from ex-Senator Reg Jeune titled ‘Stop trying to change the roles of the Bailiff”. In his letter he rather oddly claims that the dual role of the Bailiff is part of our shared Jersey heritage. I was born and raised in this Island and could not disagree more. It is not our archaic political institutions that make me feel a Jersey person. Jersey is defined by its culture, its people and its beautiful beaches and countryside. Politics will always be something that individuals disagree on.

The implication behind saying that the dual role of the Bailiff is an integral part of Jersey is that, if you believe in modernising our institutions, you are somehow “anti-Jersey”. Actually I and many others are in favour of modernising our Islands democracy precisely because we care about Jersey. We are not enemies of Jersey tradition.

Mr Jeune wants us to believe it is impossible for a Bailiff to be anything other than a paragon of virtue and cites his 34 years as a States Member as good qualification for saying so. Though it is odd that he seemingly suffers from amnesia when it comes to the late former Deputy Bailiff (and therefore Deputy President of the States of Jersey) Vernon Tomes who had to be sacked from his position for under-performing as Deputy Bailiff. He then went on to top the next Senatorial elections.

This makes the point quite nicely. It is entirely possible for an individual to make an excellent judge, but not a very good Speaker of the States, or vice versa.

Mr Jeune selectively cites the Kilbrandon Report. He neglects to tell the readers that the Kilbrandon Report was written over 40 years ago and had a very wide scope of things it was tasked with analysing, in which Jersey’s constitution was a very tiny part. Contrast this with the very recent Carswell Report, which had the very concise purpose of examining the role of the Crown Officers in Jersey. The Carswell Report very clearly stated that it is not appropriate practice in the 21st Century for a judge to also be speaker of a parliament. This was the same conclusion that the Clothier Report came to as well. The writing is on the wall.

Whilst Guernsey may also have a Bailiff who presides over their States, Mr Jeune did not tell the readers that our other sister island, Sark, has recently been compelled by the UK government to modernise and they have split the dual role of their Seneschal. Do we really want to have to wait for the UK to compel us too, when we are capable of making the change ourselves?

The Isle of Man and Gibraltar also have elected speakers, and their society has not crumbled before their eyes.

I'm reminded of the lyrics in Bob Dylan's classic The Times They Are a Changin' “you better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone”. The world is totally different to what it was like when Reg Jeune was a politician. If Jersey is to remain an internationally respected and trusted jurisdiction, we should not only keep up with the times, but we should try to be ahead of the times. The dual role of the Bailiff cannot continue, and now is the time to modernise, as Sir Michael Birt is about to retire.

If Jersey traditions are so important for our heritage, why are some people so scared of creating new traditions?

Sam Mezec - Chairman of Reform Jersey


  1. "The McGonnell ruling only requires that a judge does not sit in a case concerning a piece of legislation in respect of which the judge had a role during the legislative process."

    Jersey is quite capable of abiding by this with only some minor procedural changes.

    I don't believe anyone will compel Jersey to change against its will and I suspect the States will not vote for this. I'm afraid the times aren't changing any time soon.

  2. I found the JEP's election coverage first class whereas I found the bloggers to be often heavily biased towards a few candidates and openly hostile towards certain candidates perceived to be 'the establishment'. The JEP gave equal coverage to all candidates but also carried some articles featuring people like, among others, Sir Philip Bailache because he is a) newsworthy, and b) good at getting publicity.

    If you send an identical questionnaire to every candidate and publish all the responses side by side then that's pretty balanced.

    Whilst I don't agree with the editorial comment you mention I think the bloggers in general have a long way to go before they give unbiased general election coverage to the standard of the main stream media.

    1. To say the JEP wasn't biased and then admit that Philip Bailhache got more coverage is quite a contradiction.

      The bloggers were biased, but their bias was acknowledged and accepted. In the same way that my blog does not claim to be impartial, it very clearly says it's commentary from a progressive political point of view.

      The problem is when the islands only newspaper pretends not to be biased, when giving some candidates more coverage than others.

    2. More coverage does not mean they are biased. Bias implies intention. The actual election coverage was very fair and balanced (as was their excellent coverage of the referendum) but at the same time they continued to cover news and the people making the news at that time were people like Sir Philip. Like it or not, Sir Philip is far more news worthy than many of the other candidates. He is probably also quite good at making the right noises around election time to get noticed. Fair play to him for that.

    3. Nothing in the definition of bias says it is intentional.

      I agree the coverage of the referendum was good, but I disagree on the election. You accept that Philip Bailhache got more coverage, but deny that it's bias. That is a contradiction. Fair coverage would have given all candidates an equal platform.

      After every election hustings, the photo the next day would be of Philip Bailhache speaking, the first and longest quote would be from him and some other candidates would barely get a mention.

      If the BBC had reported after the leaders debates in the last UK election and had dedicated 10 minutes to what David Cameron had said, only 2 minutes to Gordon Brown and not mentioned Nick Clegg, they'd have been criticised very heavily for it. But in Jersey people will always defend the JEP.

    4. You seem to be remembering the coverage differently to me. Did you actually read the printed paper when you were in the uk?

    5. So if one candidate has lots of interesting things to say and another one doesn't, how should that be reported?

    6. Sir,

      Fair coverage doesn't necessarily equate to equal coverage. The candidates are different and so the coverage of each must also be different. Every election will have a number of heavyweights who attract more of the limelight than some of the lesser known candidates. The fact that they then go on to top the poll is not a reflection of the coverage they got. They got that coverage because they were potential poll toppers. Any attempt to flatten out the coverage equally would have been bias towards the vanilla candidates.

    7. 'But in Jersey people will always defend the JEP.'

      How dare you. That is both demeaning and, if you don't mind me saying so, smacks of racism. Many of us may not have had the privilege of spending a protracted amount of time in the UK, and experiencing your level of political engagement, but you appear to be inferring that we Jersey people are stupid, provincial or uneducated because we defend our local paper.

      What do you have against people here that you have to patronise us at every opportunity ?

    8. Anonymous at 13:44 -

      I read what I could and was able to read a reasonable amount when I got back to Jersey after the elections. I stand by what I have said. Their coverage was focussed on whatever Senator Bailhache said, to the exclusion of other candidates. The commenters here that disagree with me are either saying there was no extra coverage, or there was extra coverage but it was justified. Seems a contradiction to me.

      Anonymous at 13:53 -

      During an election, a candidate that has nothing interesting to say is just as important as the candidate who has a lot to say. I need to know both to make up my mind who to vote for. But if nothing is reported on some candidates, how can I work out which is saying the things I consider interesting? Interesting is subjective. What I might find a good idea, someone else might not.

      Anonymous at 14:39 -

      It's precisely because some candidates are less well known than others that coverage must be equal. If a candidate is well known, you can assume more of the public know a lot about them anyway, and so there is the duty to educate the public on the other candidates so they aren't disadvantaged.

      Anonymous at 15:56 -

      I, a Jerseyman, am racist towards Jersey people.

      Now I've heard everything!

      I love my island. I'm not going to apologise for translating that love into action to make the island even better than I already think it is.

    9. Sam, if a candidate has nothing to say and another has lots to say how can they receive equal cover? Some people stand out (either naturally or because they are good at marketing themselves) and so will generate more news. The JEP reports what it thinks the public want to hear. If Sir PB got more coverage then its because he had more newsworthy things to say. Giving a lesser candidate equal coverage would have been biased in favour of the lesser candidate.

    10. If a candidate had nothing to say, I'd be quite interested to know that. I have actually been to hustings before where a candidate has declined to answer a question because they admitted they didn't know anything about the subject. I'd be keen to know that because it shows they obviously aren't that bright.

      But whether a candidate is a lesser candidate or not is subjective. I would never vote for Philip Bailhache in a million years, so he is not a greater candidate to me.

      If your view is that the JEP was justified in giving Philip Bailhache more coverage, that's fine. But it's not my view. But at least we can agree that my original point that he got more coverage than the other candidates is correct.

    11. I didn't mean literally 'nothing to say'. Some people generate more news and therefore get more coverage. A former Bailiff standing for Senator attracts more interest than an unknown. In that sense we can agree that Sir Philip got more coverage but I do not agree that that makes the coverage biased, it simply reflects the actual reality. Every candidate got equal coverage in the questionnaires but the larger personalities etc got extra coverage because they generated it via their campaigns. Most readers are intelligent enough to realise why he is appearing more than the others and are not influenced by this in a unfair way.

      I could argue that the JEP is biased because it prints more of your letters than mine. But that's not bias, its just reflecting the reality which is that you write lots of letters and I write none.

    12. Note how I haven't criticised the BBC's coverage of the election (and my blog proves I am not someone who avoids criticising the BBC). I didn't have a problem with their coverage.

      The JEP also didn't report anything noteworthy from the St Helier 3/4 hustings (the most important hustings event outside of the Senatorials, because of number of candidates who will be elected). At this hustings, there was virtually unanimity amongst candidates who said that they had a big problem with a former Attorney General standing for the States after the Roger Holland affair.

      I only know about that because of the blogs, not the JEP, who should have reported because it was "interesting" after all. I think most islanders would be keen to hear that story.

    13. Thanks for that VFC.

      Can anyone confirm whether the JEP reported anything about this particular question and set of answers from the hustings in St Helier 3/4?

  3. Sam, In your letter you don't actually say why the role should be split, other than to say people have recommended it over the years and others have done it. Why should it be split? What are the benefits?

    1. I've mentioned it in blogs before, but I agree with the reasons given by the Carswell Report.

      The relevant extract is at Appendix 1 here - http://www.statesassembly.gov.je/AssemblyPropositions/2013/P.160-2013Com.pdf

      In short, the dual role is not in line with the democratic principle of a separation of powers. The judiciary and the legislature should be separate to prevent conflicts arising.

      People argue that conflicts in Jersey don't arise. You can argue over whether that is true or not (I don't think it is true), but regardless, more conflicts don't arise because the Bailiff has to recuse himself when he thinks they will arise. The two points there are; 1. Why bother? It's a bit too much effort. Just have a Bailiff that doesn't need to recuse himself, and 2. It's entirely possible one day to have a Bailiff who chooses not to recuse himself. And who will his decisions be appealed to? The Bailiff! No thanks. Too many contradictions.

      Not to mention that having an elected speaker would save us money. The resources to assist the Bailiff as speaker already exist and would just be transferred to a States Member to use instead. Whilst the Bailiff (who earns around £350k a year) could be in court more often, and we wouldn't need to get UK judges over as often as we do.

      The only legitimate argument, in my view, arises on the subject of whether the Bailiff should be civic head or not. Some say he can't be if he isn't President of the States, therefore he should remain President of the States. Some say he is perfectly capable of remaining civic head of the island whilst just being a judge. But I say an unelected judge shouldn't be civic head anyway, it should be an elected role.

      That is down to preference at the end of the day.

      But the separation of powers is fundamental.

    2. There is definite evidence of conflict. See the extraordinary case where imnvestors who had been defrauded tried to take Cantrade to court in Jersey, here:

      An extract:

      "Sinel (in his affidavit filed in New York) goes on to criticise the bias of the Chief Judge (the Bailiff) for perverting the course of justice and the democratic process, for his overt political function in his conflicting roles as Chief Justice, Head of State, and Head of the Executive and Legislature, meaning there is no separation of function between judiciary and legislature. The Judge can rule on the very laws he has designed or approved. Among the many judgements and remarks he has given against the interests of the defrauded investors in the Cantrade Fraud, he once dismissively referred to them as "a small band of protestors".

      So yes, there is a problem.

  4. "Their coverage of the election was appallingly biased and they are in absolutely no position whatsoever to criticise other forums for their contributions."

    They have every right to criticise other forums for their contributions.

    1. And we have every right to be appalled by it.

  5. I too was saddened by yesterday’s JEP Editorial comment lumping all Bloggers into one category of the damned.

    What is saddening is that there appeared to be something of an editorial thaw occurring; an openness, or ‘glasnost’, appearing in the editorial line. Contrast last night with that of (26/11/2013) where there was a call for a pluralism of political parties instead of the existing one party state. The hope was that civil society would generate political organisations of representation, rather than top down authoritarian structures, leading to better quality candidates and a variety of opinion.

    I would compare this change of editorial line to the period of the late 50’s in Eastern Europe which saw a thawing of the hard Stalinist line and the flourishing of phenomena like the Prague Spring. Indeed the JEP is a relic of the cold war and those battles, awaiting to be reconstructed.
    Alas, after last night’s editorial, it is evident that the ‘Tankists’ of hard line Stalinism remain firmly in charge. Expect continued repression.

  6. I must confess to being a bit confused.

    Just so I understand this correctly, if something is biased IN your favour it's fine, but if you interpret something as biased AGAINST your opinion, that's not to be tolerated ?

    The blogs are telling us that they wish to be viewed as journalists, and are engaged in exposing the truth, but from what you are saying, how can they expose the truth when they are intentionally biased ?

    1. Annoyingly, I wrote a reply to this that appears to have disappeared.

      It was just repeated previous points I've made.

      I've never judged whether bias is good or bad depending on which way it swings. That is something you've chosen to infer yourself.

      I despise the bias of the Daily Mail and Daily Express, but I don't criticise their existence because their bias is acknowledged.

      What I don't like is hidden bias. The JEP was biased, but pretended not to be and now criticised blogs for being biased as if the JEP was totally innocent.

    2. Where did the JEP criticise blogs for being 'biased'. I don't think that is what they said?

  7. It didn't lump all bloggers into one category, only the "worst elements of the blogging community".

    1. I'm not even sure that that is justified.

      What I am aware of as the worst elements of the blogging community are one blogger (who I won't name, but we all know who I mean) who I don't recall contributing any election specials. And the other person who runs the farce blog, but no one reads that apart from the guy who runs it.

  8. Sam didn't highlight specific blogs. His comment appeared to cover all blogs, so that's a fair criticism I would have thought ?

    'The blogs in Jersey were far more useful than the Jersey Evening Post. Without them, I would have been left in the dark.'

  9. 'Indeed the JEP is a relic of the cold war' Is this supposed to be serious ?

  10. If blogs are entitled to be biased then surely so is the JEP? They are just a big printed blog. It's not their fault they have no competition in Jersey. They are a privately owned company and don't owe anyone anything. If the bloggers pooled their resources and produced a daily paper it too would be biased.

    1. That's exactly my point.

      If the JEP is to be biased, then it's bias must be acknowledged. Instead, they are pretending to be a paragon of virtue, when the blogs are all evil. When actually they contributed to a pretty poor election last time round. So they are not in a position to criticise others.

  11. Its a shame your letter sounds more like a personal attack on Mr Jeune for daring to hold views different to yours than a logical reasoned argument. You say he "oddly claims that the dual role of the Bailiff is part of our shared Jersey heritage". There's nothing odd about that. You might not agree, but many do.

    You are implying that he must think people with your view are 'ani-jersey'. That's a pretty low tactic. You criticise him for cherry picking things that he did not say rather than just taking the opportunity to say these things yourself ("Mr Jeune did not tell the readers...", "Mr Jeune selectively cites ..."). He is entitled to present his one sided view. People are intelligent enough to make their own minds up.

    For someone who feels patronised when older people speak of their experience you then come out with "The world is totally different to what it was like when Reg Jeune was a politician". How patronising.

    Contrast that to your explanation of the reasons why the role should be split (given in an answer to a question above) which was both balanced and informative. If your letter had been along those lines it would have been a much better contribution to the debate.

    1. In my defence the letter does say that it is a reply to Reg Jeune not an independent argument for a separation of powers.

      But there was nothing in my letter that insulted Mr Jeune so it isn't a fair criticism to say it's a personal attack.

      It was a rebuttal. A fairly standard debate procedure.

    2. In my defence the letter does say that it is a reply to Reg Jeune not an independent argument for a separation of powers.

      But there was nothing in my letter that insulted Mr Jeune so it isn't a fair criticism to say it's a personal attack.

      It was a rebuttal. A fairly standard debate procedure.

  12. Sam, I suppose you better get used to having one or more 17th Century, insular mindsetted individuals whose role is to waste your time and dismiss all you say. Your arguements win time and time again. Good luck all the same. No point in telling you that the SoJ runs on dirt.

  13. I must admit I enjoy your debate style even when you're often sparring with a commenter who would never accept factual evidence, much less well-reasoned arguments. You'll serve Jersey well as a fine lawyer and politician, I'm sure.