Thursday, 5 November 2009

Referendum - A Clarification

As I have been misunderstood on the Referendum on  the Constables, just to put the record straight, I didn't actually say that (as has been suggested) that:

(1) I thought it was a good idea to remove the Constables from the States

only that

(2) it was a good idea for the whole Island to decide rather than just States members - which was Montfort Tadier's proposition.

There is a considerable difference between the two, and I do not wish to belittle the role the Constables make.

I certainly think that Simon Crowcroft, in particular, does a marvelous job, and various Constables in the past, have also made considerable contributions to Island life. I remember when Max de La Haye was Constable of St Brelade, if I emailed him on any Parish issue (which was not that often), he would get to me - on the phone - within a day.

I think the move to change the Constables elections to a single day has made a great deal of difference in raising the visibility of the election process. Before that, Constables would be re-elected on a very ad-hoc basis, and often the elections slipped under the radar. It has to be remembered that it was the Constables themselves, on their own initiative, who made this move.

I personally think the far more important issue for the Constables is not whether they should be in the States or not, but how they can improve representation at Parish Assemblies, where, as I mention, there may be 40 people who can make a Wednesday night at 8.00 taking decisions that can effect thousands in the Parish. I think there should be some kind of mechanism for ensuring that more important decisions can receive a wider electorate - for instance, a  simple postal application available to pick up, sign and drop back or post before an Assembly for those on the electoral role to enable them to vote by proxy. It is not good enough to say that people should make the commitment - the elderly, those with young children, those housebound, carers etc often cannot do so, through no fault of their own, and are thereby disenfranchised.

Regarding Guernsey, the Constables and Parish system is considerably different there and has been for many year. There are two constables for each Parish - a senior and a junior. The Constables had not been members of the States for many years, long before the recent reforms. In fact much of this goes back to the post-war years, when Guernsey's policing system was rationalised, and effectively their honorary system dismantled. The history of the Guernsey police says that:

"During the War years it became apparent that in the interests of justice, law enforcement and efficiency it was impracticable to have so many policing systems. As a result, on 5th August 1919, the subject of an Island Police Force again came up for discussion before the States of Deliberation. On that date a resolution was passed which was confirmed in November of the same year, that all duties in matters criminal, and law keeping in general, would be transferred from the parish Constables to an Island Police Force. The Projet de Loi entitled: "Loi ayant rapport a la Pohce Salerie en I'le Entiere" was registered on 10th January 1920.  However, it must be noted that on the establishment of the Island Police Force the Parish Constables were not deprived of their policing powers, but they are seldom, if ever, called upon to exercise them."

So the Parish system has always been weaker in Guernsey, and not simply because of the superconstitiences, as has been mooted, although that may have weakened it further.


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