Wednesday, 18 March 2015
Independent Jersey Care Inquiry (8) ---- A Licence to Bill?
It was anticipated that around £6 million would be suffice but 12 months on not only has that figure been spent but a further £13.7m is being asked for. Senator Gorst has repeatedly proclaimed his support for the COI and although his proposition (see below) is well meaning I believe it is flawed so it's pleasing to see that Deputy Tadier has lodged amendments seeking to delete 3 of Senator Gorst's proposals.
The Amendments can be read below but in summary they seek to delete the sub-paragraphs which will cap the £13m, impose a time limit and interfere with the way the COI is conducting its Inquiry. All 3 sub-paragraphs have a single theme and that is to save money. That is a theme I don't have a problem with but Senator Gorst and the Panel Chairman Frances Oldham should be keeping a close check on how the money is being spent and whether it is justified. From the payments made to date it is evident that there is little monitoring particularly of the legal fees incurred by States Departments which appear to be obscene.
Although the proposition and amendments have been lodged there is no certainty they will be supported as there is a school of thought that much of the extra funding will go into the pockets of the Island's Lawyers. There may be more than a whiff of truth in that claim as can be seen from the answers given to a set of questions asked by Deputy Mike Higgins at the last States Sitting.
The full set of questions and answers can be accessed below and readers will see how the money has been spent to date. As anticipated a fair chunk of the money has been spent on set up costs, accommodation, travel and other expenses some of which will not be recurring. However one will note that several millions have already been spent on legal fees with over £1.8million paid to lawyers representing States departments and individuals. Who approved the appointment of the lawyers, why were they appointed, who are the individuals, do they include former staff and/or State Members, why is the money coming out of the Inquiry fund and not from the departments and individuals concerned? Perhaps if it came from Department funds they might be more than circumspect about spending it.
If £1.8m has been spent during the stage when only the victims have given evidence, how many more millions will be spent when the COI starts looking into the Departments (in)actions and Operation Rectangle. In football parlance we have only had the pre match warm up, the match is only about to begin.
It is also worth noting that on top of the £7m a further £4.6million has been spent in relation to the Redress Scheme. Ex-gratia payments totalling £1.8million have been made to 116 victims. The victims would have been entitled to compensation much earlier had the climate which prevails today been open to them in the past but the legal fees need an explanation. The legal fees incurred by lawyers representing the Care Leavers (Compensation Scheme) amount to £408k. However the lawyers representing the States have been paid over £2 million. Why is there such a discrepancy in the fees, who has authorised the payment and were the fees justified?
Whilst I have expressed concerns over fees paid to local lawyers it would be remiss of me not to comment on the £2.7million paid to the Inquiry Lawyers. I understand that there is a fee structure similar to that paid to those representing the Care Leavers and victims. It should be recalled that legal teams have travelled far and wide taking statements from witnesses. They have also spent a great many hours at the Hearings. Can that be said of the lawyers engaged by States Departments?
I want the COI to continue and whilst I accept there will be occasions when lawyers will be required they should not be given a licence to bill for work that is not justified and at exorbitant rates. Sub paragraph (iii) of paragraph C of Senator Gorst's proposition will require the Inquiry and the States to jointly publish on their websites details of expenditure on a monthly basis. This is much welcomed and I look forward to a much more detailed breakdown of the expenditure incurred by States Department along with reasons as to why legal assistance was required.
Deputy Higgin's Questions can be read HERE
Senator Gorst's Proposition can be read HERE
Deputy Tadier's Amendments can be read HERE