Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Justice in Jersey

"I have completely lost faith in Jersey's judicial system," he said. "It's a joke. Jersey's legal system is utterly corrupt, incompetent and overly politicised. They will have to drag me back." (Stuart Syvret, reported in The Independent)

I have mixed feelings about Stuart Syvret's case against the Jersey judiciary.

I think he is probably right to say that it would be extremely difficult for him to get justice in Jersey. However the Court events play out, the appearance of bias would certainly be there, and a Court simply cannot afford to have even the suspicion that it cannot deliver justice.

It is also true that case like the handling of the non-prosecution of the Maguires, despite manifest evidence, and the neighbour alerting the police in the first instance, display a weakness in the judiciary. But I'm not convinced it is all part of a conspiracy to cover up.

The much cited "evidential rule" may well go back to the failure of a court case in the late 1980s, when the Attorney-General Philip Bailhache failed in a prosecution against three former police officers, where it was shown that copybook records had been altered after events in which they were involved. The failure to convict meant the case was something of a fiasco.

I know that he was extremely busy putting together the case at the time, working at weekends, and its failure may well have led to a general loss of confidence. This is, of course, surmise, but it would provide an alternative and equally reasonable explanation of  why the judiciary is unwilling to take on cases where they think they may fail, and have perhaps raised the bar too high in the requirements of evidence needed.
This can also be seen in the resignation of Wendy Kinnard. The point on which she resigned was the "corroboration rules" - to change the current situation in which a warning must be given to a jury over uncorroborated evidence from certain types of witnesses - children, sexual assault victims and other defendants. These were abolished in 1994 in the UK, but in Jersey they remain, which I think is again symptomatic of a failure of nerve.

There may also be a case for saying that the fine levied on the JDA was disproportionate, especially as two other cases of a similar sort were dismissed because it was deemed that they were not deliberate flouting of the law; moreover, the level of fines was extremely high. The law itself seems to have been deliberately crafted against the JDA, and does not exist in other jurisdictions such as the UK, but it is the court's duty to uphold the law, not to make it. Given the furore over corruption with UK MPs, and the fact that the law was deliberately flouted - why not just call someone independent to help with the forms - I think it is difficult to maintain the court was deliberately against the JDA, especially as they were neither suspended, not forced into a re-election, both of which would have been likely had there been any "conspiracy".

But outside of these areas, there are no grounds at all for the blanket claim that Jersey's judiciary cannot dispense justice. The general run of ordinary cases - assault, fraud, drug smuggling, drink driving, fines for non-payment of loans, tax etc - that turn up in the Police Court or Royal Court - have had no complaints against them on the grounds of some kind of bias in the justice system.

So the statement that "Jersey's legal system is utterly corrupt" simply doesn't stand up. It is an over-generalisation and it does Stuart Syvret no good, because it overstates his case. To say "I won't get justice" is something else entirely, for which there are much surer grounds, and perhaps he would be better to concentrate more on that.

1 comment:

Rob Kent said...

I think Stuart would have been able to build a stronger case if he had just accepted the driving offences and cleared them at the Parish Hall hearing. He was dead to rights after all.

That would have left him free to fight the Data Protection charges as a purely political, 'public interest' issue.

People who know and love Jersey, and the Channel Isles in general, must have mixed feelings when Stuart has one of his globally excoriating rants.

We know that he's absolutely right about certain specific things but are reluctant to accept that every States member is either a moron or corrupt, nor that, as you say, the whole of the Jersey Justice system is corrupt.

When he does rant like that, it weakens the credibility of his attacks.

As an antidote I'd recommend reading 'The Norman Archipelago' by Victor Hugo, himself an exile on Jersey and Guernsey.

The quotes are too long for me to type up but his praise of the fairness, good nature, tolerance, and free-spiritedness of the Channel Islanders is almost unreserved.

At that time, around 1855, he states that Jersey had (from memory) seven newspapers - four in French and three in English. I wonder if that had anything to do with it with the liberality of opinion on the islands, which existed in spite of the pervasive religiosity and numerous sects.

Reading his novel set on Guernsey, 'The Toilers of the Sea', it's obvious that the pettiness of its near-feudal society and pervasive religious culture, could be just as irritating as the system there today.