30 January 2012

Scrutiny: Children's Services in Jersey - But where are the Media?

The Scrutiny Panel that deals with Health and Social Services in Jersey met this Friday for their first public hearing with the Minister and her team to discuss the recent finding of the independent review carried out by the Care Inspectorate into the island's children's services. The panel did a pretty proficient job, considering it was their first ever public hearing, even if the Minister and her entourage were less impressive. 

One member who did impress was the former Education Minister, Deputy James Reed, who demanded to know why, more than 3 years after the Williamson recommendations, the new Inspectorate found that 'children were still not being listened to.'

What was perhaps most surprising (well, not for Jersey) was that none of the media bothered to turn up to hear what the Minister had to say, particularly as they had been covering the very issues that were on the agenda for that meeting. For example, just two days earlier the Jersey Evening Post led with the headline:  'Foster System "Failing Thousands"' , while the BBC lead with 'Jersey Children's Care Service "Needs Improvement"'. Yet the JEP and the BBC decided  not to send any their reporters down to hear what was going on. 
Thankfully, Citizen's media was there to take notes and do interviews. These videos are brought to you courtesy of Tom Gruchy.

23 January 2012

Good Conflict. Bad Conflict

A man with many hats:
Attorney General, Tim Le Cocq
Minister for TTS, Deputy Kevin Lewis

You may have read in Friday's Jersey Evening Post that the 'Transport and Technical Services could (here is the operative word) face prosecution over beach polution.' Could, would, might, may... Indeed. 

Now when I read this headline, two questions immediately flashed up in my mind. One inquisitive and one rhetorical: (1) 'Who exactly is going to do the prosecuting?' and (2) What is the actual likelihood of them getting [sucessfully] prosecuted?

As I read on, I found the answer to my first question (I'll leave you make up your own minds re: the second one) 'Environmental protection officers have now submitted a file of evidence about breaches of the plant’s discharge permit to the Attorney General, who is considering whether to bring the matter to court.'

From what I know of the current Attorney General, he seems like a genuinely nice guy, polite, genial, but more important intelligent and a great asset to have in the Assembly when legal questions arise that most non-legally trained members easily struggle with. 

But in this post, I am not concerned with the person of the Attorney General, rather the rôle itself. Or rather, I should say 'rôles', for his jobs are multiple. 


1) The Attorney General gives legal advice to Ministers and Scrutiny Panels. 
2)He is also the head of Jersey's prosecution service and, 
3) as 'Titular head' of the Honorary Police, carries out the duties that arise from that position. 
4)His department also assists overseas law enforcement agencies and carries out conveyancing work for the States. The Solicitor General deputises for the Attorney General.
It is the first two, primary rôles of the Attorney General which are of interest to us in this case.

(1) The Attorney General gives legal advice to Ministers (and their departments).
(2) The Attorney General Decides whether to prosecute (Ministers)

So, he gives legal advice to the Environment Department (who have submitted evidence to him regarding the alleged negligence of TTS). He gives legal advice to TTS, who may be facing charges from ... from the Attorney General. (Presumably, he gives legal advice to himself too).

A veritable one stop shop, is our Attorney General.

Now, for the conspiracy theorists amongst you, the alarm bells will be going off in your head. 'Surely this is a conflict of interest!' How can the AG possibly be considered impartial, when he has to balance so many potentially conflicts of interest!'. Shame on you. How dare you cast aspersions or Her Majesty's esteemed Attorney General to be able to balance the near impossible demands of each aspect of his job. The AG is a Crown Officer and therefore well experienced in dealing with conflicts of interests.

St Helier Deputy, Mike Higgins
When it comes to Elected States Members, however, or at least those outside the cosy inner circle, the rules are somewhat different. Last Year, Deputy Mike Higgins was prevented from carrying out a Scrutiny Review looking at the management of the Airport and Harbours and, in particular, its shadow board (one of the non-executive directors is former Chief Minister, Frank Walker). Deputy Higgins was probably the only States Member of carry out this review, but he was stopped because certain members saw his rôle as 'organiser of the Battle of Britain Air display as a conflict of interest.' Deputy Higgins gave assurances he would not be looking at areas that affected the Air Display, but this did not satisfy other members. The review never did happen and Deputy Higgins resigned from Scrutiny all together as a result

Deputy Trevor Pitman
A similar thing happened to another St Helier Deputy, Trevor Pitman, when he decided to chair a scrutiny into the handling of a review of Operation Rectangle, very much linked to Haut de la Garenne Abuse inquiry. The review was set to find out some damning revelations about how the review was handled and, in the end, succeeded in being carried out, but this was not without Deputy Pitman being dragged over the coals. Apparently, because he had 'asked questions' in the States on the issue and written a blog, he was 'conflicted' and therefore an inappropriate person to now lead a review. That is, considered inappropriate by The Home Affairs Minister, Senator Le Marquand (who was conflicted) and by Senator Ferguson (head of scrutiny at the time).

So you see, in Jersey, it is OK for Crown Officers to be able to be expected to balance their rôles, to over-ride their human nature and to always act in a clinical and impartial way, whether they are advising States Members, telling them when they can speak (some of which with whom they may get on very well, others not so well) or deciding whether to prosecute them. But for those outside the political establishment, even the most contrived suggestion of conflict can be sufficient to scupper valid democratic checks and balances from taking place.

Now, the matter of nitrates going into the sea is one thing. It is no doubt serious, but much more serious is the matter of Historic* Child Abuse (*for those still hoping for justice  in our island, there is nothing 'historic' about it). The potential conflict of interest, from the Attorney General (not necessarily Tim Le Cocq), who is one the one hand advising the Council of Ministers legally, and even politically, whilst also being the one deciding which child abuse cases to prosecute is immense

This is why I was so keen to make sure that long awaited Committee of Inquiry in Child Abuse also had the following as one of its terms of reference:

'Was a consistent and impartial approach taken when deciding on which cases to prosecute; and was the process free from political influence or interference on any level?'

This amendment was adopted as part of the Terms of Reference by the States Assembly, but it is already under threat, which figures like the former Chief Minister suggesting to me that it would be 'too costly' to include, and Senator Bailhache, who has said he thinks the CoI is a 'waste of money' altogether.

The minor battle this year will be fighting to secure an Independent Electoral Commission - which Senator Bailhache wants to derail. 

The major battle is fighting for the rights of abuse survivors and making sure that the same Senator and his authoritarian sympathisers are not allowed to derail Child Abuse Inquiry.