Friday 28 November 2014

Jersey's Freedom of Information Law--A Lucky Break !!!

Last Tuesday the States debated an amendment to the Freedom of Information Jersey Law which will come into force in January next year. Before covering that matter I believe it would be helpful to mention that the States has taken almost 20 years to bring the Law to fruition.

The seeds to the Law were sown by former Senator Stuart Syvret who in early 1994 was appointed as President of the newly constituted Special Committee on Freedom of Information to examine the issues involved in establishing by law, a general right of access to official information by members of the public.The members of Stuart's committee were Senator's Nigel Quérée and Vernon Tomes, and Deputies Robin Rumboll, Jimmy Johns, Gary Matthews and me.

It has been a torturous route with every opportunity taken by those with vested interests finding every possible excuse to deny the public of information they are entitled to. If it had not been for Stuart's initial initiative, drive and persistence one wonders whether there would be a Law today.

I have lost track of the number of States Members who before being elected supported the principle of openness yet have failed to keep their promises. In the attached Comments the Council of Ministers/COM claims to strongly support openness and transparency in government yet could not give its support to a common sense set of amendments from Deputy Carolyn Labey of Grouville which sought to extend the Law to States-owned bodies. 

It is only in recent years that States-owned bodies such as Jersey Telecoms and Jersey Post have Boards comprising of non-States Members. It is only months ago that the States transferred the running of its housing stock to Andium Homes which will come within the Law's remit. Yet the COM opposed Deputy Labey's amendments which were in two parts/paragraphs. The first two which sought approval to extend the Law to include such bodies as Jersey Telecoms and secondly for law drafting to be completed as soon as practicable. 

Part/Paragraph (c) was even less testing because all it asked was for the Chief Minister to investigate the feasibility and desirability of further extending the scope of the Law to other entities that receive a majority of their funding from the States, and to report back to the States with recommendations within 6 months.

Unfortunately the same COM which claims to strongly support openness and transparency in government wasn't even prepared to investigate extending the Law. The usual red herrings of confidentiality intruding in business were recycled, however the Law will rightly have clauses to prevent such eventualities. 

I have attached Deputy Labey's proposition and her Report along with the COM 's Comments which are below. I have also attached the details of the two sets of votes which are worth reading.

The Chief Minister who is to be likened to a Dictator in that he now requires all his Ministers to fall into line and vote as he does was left with egg on his face. When one looks at the way Members voted it will be noted that all Ministers in Lemming fashion obeyed the call to duty. However the Chief Minister will have to do something about the dining habits and travel arrangements of Senators Bailhache, Farnham and Ozouf. 

The first two were unable to complete their lunch within the 90 minute luncheon break whereby they missed the vote which was taken soon after the luncheon break. Senator Ozouf's absence was because he was out of the Island on States business which turned out to be a blessing. This is because their absence meant that parts (a) and (b) of Deputy Labey's amendments were approved by 3 votes, 22/19 with 8 Members out of the Chamber. Had the Ministers been present the Deputy would lost because if a vote is tied the amendment/proposition is lost. 

When it came to voting for part/paragraph (c) even though it was opposed by the COM, Deputy Labey increased her majority to 28/12 with 9 Members absent. If one looks carefully at that vote it will be seen that the Education Minister, Deputy Rob Bryans broke ranks and actually voted according to his conscience.  One wonders whether he has been ordered to produce 100 lines promising to obey in future, or given a yellow card. 

Tuesday may have been a bad day for Chief Minister Gorst and his Ministers but it was a good day for the general public who will benefit from greater openness and transparency.  

Deputy Labey's amendment and the COM Comments can be read in full by clicking on to the links below. The two votes can also be read by clicking onto the relevant links.

Freedom of Information amendment P149/2014

Freedom of Information Council of Minister's Comments

Votes for Paragraphs  A and B

 Votes for paragraph C

Tuesday's States business was all over before 3pm. However I doubt whether it will end by 3pm when it next sits on Tuesday 9th December. On the Order Paper are 3 cannabis related propositions which were lodged last July by Deputy Monty Tadier. He is seeking approval for sufferers of multiple sclerosis to be prescribed Sativex Spray which is cannabis based, He is also requesting the Minister to use his discretionary powers under the Misuse of Drugs (General Provisions) (Jersey) Order 2009; to permit Bedrocan BV to be prescribed and thirdly to allow cannabis to be smoked for medicinal purposes.

There should be some lively debates.

Friday 21 November 2014

Jersey's Elections (5) -------No Honour, Integrity or Confidence, What's New?

Following a complaint lodged by Nick Le Cornu and Gino Rosoli the losing candidates in the recent election for Deputies in St Helier Number 1 District, the Royal Court has rejected their complaint relating to an error in the Nomination Paper submitted by Scott Wickenden (above).

The Royal Court may well be of the belief that the submission of an invalid Nomination Paper was technical and inadvertent therefore not a matter of substance.  But is that acceptable, are Elections not supposed to be serious matters therefore requiring the highest standards of honesty and integrity.

The Public is entitled to expect States Members to be competent, honest and honourable. It should also expect its Courts to act in a fair and consistent way and deliver justice. Perhaps it’s because I am old fashioned and principled that I am not enamoured by the Court’s decision or share the relief experienced by Scott Wickenden when he says he just wants to get on with his job. The following paragraphs will explain my reasons.

Nomination Papers are vital documents and it is the responsibility of candidates to ensure that their signatories are not only on the electoral role but live in the relevant constituency. 

Having stood for election several times I know how important the Nomination Paper is and always ensured that my signatories were valid. Mr Wickenden failed this simple task. The other five candidates did not.

I understand that Mr Wickenden submitted his Nomination Paper to St Helier Parish Hall before the Nomination Meeting. The Nomination Paper contained the name of a woman who lived outside Number 1 District thereby rendering the document invalid. However the Officer at the Town Hall failed to spot the error. 

Given that Mr Wickenden would have been canvassing for 3 weeks before the day of the election It is hard to understand how he did not discover that one of his signatories lived in a different district or those close to him did not discover that fact. This leads one to ask whether he did know but chose not to disclose the information.

Most signatories vote for their nominee. However it is evident that the woman could not vote for Mr Wickenden at the Town Hall because as she had discovered that she was registered to vote in Number 2 District she voted at the Springfield Polling Station and therefore could not vote for him. It seems inconceivable that there was no communication between the pair of them before or after the election. Unfortunately the Royal Court was not sufficiently interested to allow the complainants to call the woman to give evidence so we shall never know the truth.

It is also hard to accept that at no time during the post election celebrations that the mistake did not come to light or was not discussed.  However even if one is prepared to believe that Mr Wickenden knew absolutely nothing of his mistake until it was revealed the day after the election, it is evident that he was prepared to sit tight in anticipation that the matter would disappear which questions his honesty and integrity.

Elections are ordered by the Royal Court which appoints its Jurats as Returning Officers. A Jurat was appointed to oversee the above election yet it appears there is no provision for the Court or its appointees to play any role in addressing invalid Nomination Papers. This is left to the unsuccessful candidates who will be perceived to be bad losers by pursuing the matter. This was certainly the case with Nick Le Cornu. I am not defending his inappropriate remarks about a fellow States Member but his mistake should not have been used as a reason for some of the media to attack him but turn a blind eye to a “mistake” by another politician.

The Royal Court should be setting higher bench marks for those who seek high office, yet in this particular case it appears that the bench mark was set well below the norm because of who one of the complainants was. One wonders what action would have followed had Mr Le Cornu won in similar circumstances. 

We are all capable of making mistakes but it is how we handle them that we are judged. Mr Wickenden was seeking the high office of Member of our Parliament whereby his competence, honesty and integrity should be beyond reproach. The Court accepts that he is incompetent but sadly it seemed unconcerned about his honesty and integrity.  

It is not disputed that by receiving more votes than three other candidates Mr Wickenden was elected, however he was elected by an electorate who believed that he was efficient, honest and honourable. With the number of unanswered questions, could that now be said of him?

I saw Mr Wickenden's interview on TV last night and he was clearly relieved, however he offered no apology for his mistake or for the expense incurred by the taxpayers and others in addressing it. Perhaps an honourable member would have apologised for his mistake as soon as it came to light. If  the mistake was known only after the result was announced, which seems highly unlikely, then he should have resigned thus allowing for a re-election.

His action would have been seen as one of humility and honesty which I am sure would have seen his vote increased. As it is unless there are answers to my questions above there will always be question marks about his integrity and honesty.

I note that Mr Wickenden is now a member of the Public Accounts Committee chaired by Deputy Andrew Lewis. Given the concerns raised in my previous blog concerning Deputy Lewis it is evident that they are well suited so one can understand why there is so little confidence in our parliamentary and judicial system.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Independent Jersey Care Inquiry (6)----- Another Unhappy Anniversary

In my previous blog I wrote about the first anniversary of my meeting with Heather Steel who hardly acted like a Dame when breaking a promise to give me the transcript of our meeting. In that blog I also mentioned that we were approaching what will now be the 6th anniversary of the suspension of Jersey’s former Police Chief Graham Power.

I apologise if this blog is a little longer than usual but there is so much documentation to hand which has been collated to eke out the truth in what has been a disgraceful display of abuse at the highest level of government. This blog is intended to give an insight into the events leading up to and after the suspension and although lengthy there is still more which could have been included. 

Nothing can be done to undo the hurt inflicted on the former police chief and his family or to recover the million pounds plus incurred by Home Affairs and the States in paying for futile court cases and pointless one sided investigations whilst attempting to justify an unjust act. However those involved with the decision to suspend in the first place and those who did their utmost to cover up the truth and to deny the Chief Officer his natural right to answer the spurious allegation against him should not be forgotten.

The police investigation into the child abuse allegations came as a rude awakening to many Islanders who smugly believed that Jersey was immune from such claims. It is not disputed that the decision to implement Operation Rectangle was only taken after all the available evidence had been examined and was supported by senior officers from outside the Island. Given the weight of the information to hand, not to conduct a thorough search of Haut de Garenne would certainly have led to claims of cover ups. The police would be damned if they did not dig and certainly damned because they did, particularly as no bodies were found, although no explanation has been given for the collection of teeth that were found.

In recent months the Portuguese Police conducted a similar dig in the full glare of the world’s media for Madeleine McCann which apparently did not discover any evidence but I have not heard of the relevant police chief being suspended. What is evident is that it was the leadership of Jersey’ s senior politicians that was found wanting and having had their shortcomings publicly exposed some one’s head had to roll and it certainly was not going to be theirs.

I was a States Member at the time of the suspension which came as a complete surprise. I had been aware of concerns regarding the expense of the investigations but not of the professionalism of the police involved. I was surprised how quickly a Church Service was arranged for the victims when none had been identified. However the service was not at the behest of the police. I was also surprised at how quickly the investigation attracted the attention of the world’s media. However once in contact with several journalists it soon became evident that the principle of why let the truth get in the way of a good story prevailed. I was a serving police officer in Lambeth during the Brixton riots and there were times when I questioned the motives and integrity of the media who similarly sought to make mountains out of molehills.

The police chief was suspended on 12th November 2008 but because of the election the matter via a Minister’s statement could not be addressed until 2nd December. The Minister Andrew Lewis said it gave him no pleasure to read it. Given the evidence of Ministerial and Civil Servant collusion that later came to light it is not surprising it gave him no pleasure.

During the next three years there were well over a hundred written and oral questions asked by the likes of, Deputies Higgins, Tadier, Pitman, Wimberley and me as we sought answers from Ian Le Marquand, Terry Le Sueur and Philip Ozouf. Connetable Crowcroft in December 2008 lodged a proposition P182/2008 HERE requesting the Home Affairs Minister Ian Le Marquand to commission a compliance check on the suspension and report to the States no later than 1st March 2009.

It seemed such an obvious yet simple request, particularly as Ian Le Marquand was new to the States and should have stood back and given his support. Unfortunately it was not to be possibly because he had been briefed by his acting Chief Officer David Warcup who was heavily involved and conflicted as he would have taken his boss's job and salary. His participation in the suspension not only led to criticism from Bryan Napier but rendered him unfit to replace Graham Power. He resigned prior to seeking States approval for his appointment.

Having failed to accept Connetable Crowcroft’s proposition in 2010 I lodged P9/2010. HERE which sought approval to establish an independent panel to review the suspension. Again the States rejected that proposition but accepted Chief Minister Le Sueur’s proposal to appoint an independent commissioner to conduct an “in house Review.”

Senator Le Sueur sought my support but I would only give it if I was to be party to the appointment of the Commissioner and able to have sight of the draft report(s), this was agreed as were were the terms of reference. However they were altered by the Deputy Chief Executive Officer without consulting me or Senator Le Sueur. It is known that at least two drafts were produced without me having sight of them as was the “final” version which I don’t believe was as written by the Commissioner Bryan Napier. His Report can be read HERE.  Whilst Napier found people at fault it is difficult to understand how he could find no evidence of a conspiracy when his report provides so much evidence.

One person not interviewed was Wendy Kinnard who was the Minister for Home Affairs until mid October 2008. She would never have been party to disciplinary action therefore she was never party to any of the secret discussions which took place between Senator Frank Walker, Andrew Lewis who was Assistant Minister of Home Affairs, Chief Executive Officer Bill Ogley, David Warcup and the Law Officers so how could it be said there was no evidence of conspiracy?

During the in camera question period after Andrew Lewis had read his statement and before I was privy to any of the facts that later emerged, I said there was a nasty smell about the suspension. Knowing what I now know it is evident that Graham Power was “stitched up.”  Deputy Lewis had replaced Wendy Kinnard and like Kinnard and Walker he too was retiring from the States in early December. Therefore having been given a window of opportunity it called for swift action. The action taken was akin to "planting" which was a despicable act undertaken by "bent coppers" and did so much harm to the reputation of all police officers.

It was known that Graham Power was to take a short break over the week end of 7/10th November. It is evident that David Warcup had a "friend" in the Met Police who was attempting to obtain a report into the Jersey Police Force's handling of the child abuse allegation. The Report was never intended for disciplinary action and neither was it complete because important witnesses had not been interviewed. It is also evident that the "friend" could not provide the report until Monday 10th November. However letters relating to the pending suspension were typed on the morning of Saturday 8th November which made reference to the Met Interim Report which was still not in Warcup's hands. The letters were dated 12th November which was the day that Graham Power was to be suspended

The Interim Report without the Met Police logo was received by Warcup during Monday 10th and was deemed to be so sensitive that they were for police eyes only, therefore it was not seen by Lewis, Walker or Ogley, Yet this was the damning evidence which used to justify suspending a police officer with over 40 years distinguished service.

There is no longer any dispute about the drafting of the letters because having had his request for evidence to support that fact denied by the Chief Minister, Senator Terry Le Sueur, Graham Power made a successful application to the States Complaint's Board which found in his favour. The Board's finding via R115/2009 can be read HERE

The suspension was deemed to be a neutral act which was farcical claim because despite the evidence that came to hand the matter was allowed to simmer for almost two years at the cost of over a million pounds much of which was paid to the Wiltshire Constabulary whose officers made dozens of trips to Jersey trying to find evidence to level disciplinary charges. Although their report was submitted to Minister Le Marquand before Christmas it remained on his desk until Graham Power had retired the following summer. 

Bryan Napier presented his final Report on 10th September but Senator Le Sueur would not circulate it. He was minded to take disciplinary proceedings against the Chief Executive Officer Bill Ogley, but no doubt was advised not do so being fearful of what Bill Ogley would have made public. Somehow a way out was found whereby he was able to retire with a £500k parachute. The Napier Report was eventually published two months later but only after I had made it clear that I would publish my copy.

Napier made a number of recommendations such as to ensure that statements are preserved and not torn up as was the case with Bill Ogley. Therefore I lodged a proposition P166/2010 HERE which sought States approval to implement them. Also as Napier had found that Graham Power had been unfairly suspended I asked that he be given a formal States apology.

As with other propositions P166 was rejected and disgracefully the States rejected my proposal to apologize to Graham Power. In March 2011 after the former Senator Le Gresley had lodged P19/2011 requesting the Council of Ministers to reconsider its decision not to establish a Committee of Inquiry into Jersey’s historic abuse, I lodged amendments HERE seeking States approval to establish a Committee of Inquiry if the issues raised in R27/2008 HERE had not been not been resolved.

It is said that everything comes to he who waits and thanks to a U turn by some hard liners my amendment along with one from Deputy Tadier was approved. Paragraph 12 of the Committee of Inquiry’s terms of Reference is to determine whether the concerns in 2007 were sufficient to justify the States of Jersey Police setting in train ‘Operation Rectangle’. Not only must the concerns be reviewed but also the repercussions of that decision. 

The suspension was totally unjustified as was the cost incurred in to prevent the truth being disclosed. The Committee of Inquiry now has the opportunity of right a wrong. The Inquiry Chair, Frances Oldham QC, has promised a "robust and fearless" examination of what went wrong and to find answers for people who suffered abuse as children. In seeking answers to those issues she must also seek answers from those who abused their positions when suspending Graham Power because without his leadership there would be no investigation, no Committee of Inquiry and those abused and neglected would still be unheard.

P182/2008 Connetable Simon Crowcroft's request for a compliance check can be read HERE
R115/2009 The Complaint's Board Finding re date of drafting of suspension letters can be read HERE
P 9/2010 My proposition to request an independent public review of the suspension can be read  HERE
R.132/2010 The Napier Report can be read  HERE
P166/2008 which also contains Graham Power's Affidavit can be read HERE
P19/2011 amendment to establish Committee of Inquiry can be read HERE
R27/2008 Council of Ministers Report re possible of Inquiry can be read HERE