Monday, 29 March 2010

Legal Costs and Graham Power

Senator Ian Le Marquand (as reported in the JEP) suggests that Graham Power could afford to be professionally represented by a Jersey Advocate, mainly on the grounds that Mr Power is suspended on full pay.

When the case of the Pinel family has run up legal costs of around £300,000, it is clear that this is not as straightforward as it sounds. Senator Le Marquand believes that libellous statements have been made on blogs, begging the question why those allegedly libelled do not sue for damages, but the reason is most probably the same - the costs can be prohibitively expensive, and if those making allegations have no assets, there is not much compensation available.

It is noteworthy that former Senator Frank Walker, a man of substantial means, did see fit to take recourse to this kind of action against accusations by two States members that he was a wife-beater, but that Constable Dan Murphy who also says that comments against him on Stuart Syvret's blog are malicious has not. Senator Le Marquand has called into question not free speech, which is a a vital constitutional freedom but the fact that there is not any real redress for libellous information on blogs. It is just too costly in Jersey. There is an assumption that because nobody sues anyone, the information is therefore true, an assumption often fuelled by some bloggers themselves in their comments.

The same factor, I believe, applies in the case of Graham Power, where despite his Chief Officer's pay, the cost of employing a lawyer is simply too costly. Even if you win, it can bankrupt you.

One of the lessons to be learned from Islam is the popularity of Sharia law, which in countries like Nigeria provide a cheap and fair form of justice for ordinary Muslims, for whom the cost of litigation is beyond their wildest dreams. I'm not saying that we should adopt Sharia Law - in my opinion, any inflexible and theocratic legislature is dangerous - but it does address the matter of providing a justice system that is available to everyone regardless of cost.

This is a weakness in Jersey and British Law that makes it open to exploitation by those calling for the introduction of Sharia Law, and while people who have sufficient funds should be able to pay their way, I think there should be limitations imposed (perhaps by means testing) on the level of expenditure that should be incurred before the State steps in.

Jersey has a legal aid system, but it is very poor; it helps the poorest, but it does not help everyone else from being penalised with the cost of litigation. I am sure that Graham Power considered the cost of using a lawyer, and weighed that against the cost to his family, and his near retirement. The State, on the other hand, in such cases, can call upon all the weight of its own legal staff, and expert advice if required. It is not exactly a balanced and fair system.


voiceforchildren said...


The question Graham Power must also be asking himself is what are the chances of getting a "fair", "impartial" and "non politicised" hearing in any Jersey court?

Jersey courts and "justice", in my opinion, are two completely different things. So much so I believe "Skippy" would probably be asked to preside over the Graham Power case.

Why should he lay out hundreds of thousands of pounds for a Circus?

Tony said...

It is certainly possible that he might not get a fair trial, however, he has managed to obtain the dates of the documents relating to his resignation from the Courts, who have also criticised aspects of the original suspension. We should include that Court's decision in any assessment of how politicised justice may be in Jersey.

Rob Kent said...

You are obviously right about the punitive costs of pursuing a libel action, although I guess the States employees mentioned anonymously in the Chapman report should have the protection of their employer or union.

Since Stuart's blog (for example) is widely read in the UK it might, under current UK libel laws, be possible for someone who thought they'd been libelled to sue in the UK on a no-win, no-fee basis.

However, given that the people they would be suing are not wealthy, as far as we know, they probably wouldn't find a law firm to take it on.

There again, '7 Bedford Row', as an entity, is being continually maligned, and if anyone could afford to work for nothing, it is them.

How easy is it to bring the case yourself without a solicitor I wonder? Even then you would still have court costs to consider.