Friday, 14 January 2011

Guernsey Watch and Jersey Musings

I've been looking over the waters to see what's been making the headlines in our neighbouring Island of Guernsey.

"Cut red tape from Sunday shops law" suggests a reform of the Sunday trading laws in Guernsey. These are tighter than Jersey, and until fairly recently, no garages could open to sell petrol on a Sunday, which could cause problems if a holidaymaker was running low on petrol, and not aware of the fact. But this story was not about reform of the laws, but reform of the red tape. A Bridge butcher took over a new shop, and had to wait for a month before the licence application was approved.

Mr Le Poidevin applied for a Sunday trading licence from the St Sampson's constables when he took over the former Johns the Butchers shop late last year. But he had to wait more than a month for his application to be approved and could not open on a Sunday during that time. (1)

Jersey has its own spell bureaucratic madness, when Liberation day fell on a Saturday, and Simon Crowcroft permitted Town retailers to open on a Sunday, with some Parishes following suit, and some not, according the whim of their Constable. Until persuaded that it was grossly unfair, Ransom's Garden Centre would have to remain closed because of the Constable of St Martin, while the Constable of St Peter was happy to see St Peter's Garden Centre open.

My suspicions are that nothing will be done to rectify this kind of mess until the same problem comes round again, whereupon we will see our glorious international high calibre finance centre being subject locally to what appears to the outsider to be narrow minded small town politics. And yes, the irony is intentional - it seems a bit much that we have all kinds of rules and regulations to make our finance industry comply with international standards, and it is talked up as world class at the same time as the internal framework of laws allow the Constables to have a law applied in one way for one Parish, one for another. We need a bit of Parish harmonisation!

Meanwhile, retailers are complaining about the delivery of fresh milk that stays fresh:

A review of the dairy industry said there were concerns that fresh milk products were presently being distributed to major retailers in un-refrigerated vehicles, with the exception of Marks & Spencer, whose milk was refrigerated in line with company policy. (2)

It turns out that the some large retailers have to take the milk from whichever roundsman has the control of the zone in which a store was located, and cannot insist on it being refrigerated. On a hot day, this does not seem a wise idea. Mind you, I have seen milk in Jersey, in one of the smaller group of retail outlets, just stacked up for at least an hour before being put into the cool cabinet, and I wonder how well Jersey does in this respect? I usually get the blue or green cartons, as skimmed or semi-skimmed milk seems to last longer anyway.

When I was at primary school, the school milk (then in the bizarre pyramid shaped "tetrapaks") was often just brought in and left in a corner of a classroom, so that in a hot summer, it was already curdling by break time, and virtually undrinkable. The pyramid shaped design was particularly ill suited to fridges, as they took up an extraordinary amount of space.

I remember the nascent new age pop-culture of the 1970s coming out with a book on "Pyramid Power", in which it was stated that the reason the Pharaoh's were buried in pyramids was because the shape was conducive to "earth energies" which would preserve anything, including dead bodies. The author even stated he had success with a small perspex pyramid and fruit. He obviously had never tried Jersey milk's Tetrapak, which produced thousands of refutations every day.

We have had violent incidents in Jersey recently, with people out at night being beaten up, but no single individuals who could perhaps be described as "dangerous loners" recently, as in a Guernsey case:

After shooting a chicken with a crossbow, Richard Le Conte pulled the trigger on an unloaded rifle he was aiming at his sister and waved a knife in her face. In the Magistrate's Court, Le Conte, 20, admitted causing unnecessary suffering to an animal and conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace. He was sentenced to nine months in prison, suspended for three years, and two years' supervision.

Advocate David Domaille said that his client, who was sent to youth detention for a year in 2008 for shooting a rifle at people from a car, accepted the facts but wanted to explain the 'spirit' of the offending. Judge Philip Robey said he was not concerned with what the defendant intended or did not intend to do.(3)

Interestingly, I came across a case of waving a weapon at another individual from Jersey, but within the police force. In Lenny Harper's affidavit, he mentions a number of incidents of bullying with the local police when he arrived, not as has recently been alleged by him, but rather stopped by him. Here is the case in question:

One male officer told how one night shift he was sitting in the Station Office with the Sergeant when the latter produced a 9mm semi automatic pistol. The Sergeant dismantled the firearm and cleaned it. When finished, he assembled it, put the magazine in and cocked the weapon. He then pointed it directly at the male officer's head for several seconds before lowering it and saying "No, not tonight." That male officer is still suffering the effects of the bullying by the Sergeant.

The recent mention of bullying in the force by Ian Le Marquand, appearing to suggest that Graham Power and Lenny Harper were bullies, ignores this kind of incident. It is well known that when bullies are stopped, they will themselves complain that they have been bullied, and it would be truer to say that Mr Power and Mr Harper brought about a change to a culture to that within which bullies would have felt intimidated.

Every profession in life attracts its share of bullies, but professions which involve the exercise of power (such as police or politicians) are probably more prone to attract the kind of individual who enjoys wielding power. This is, of course, not a Jersey problem, and we need to be aware of that. The brutal beating up of Ian Tomlinson, or the dragging of Jody McIntyre from his wheelchair during the recent student protests illustrate how some police, but not all, should clearly not be in the force at all.

But in terms of "dangerous loners", the most alarming case was that of the SOJ Police Firearms Clerk at the time himself, whose home address was searched by Lenny Harper:

At his address I recovered a huge number of firearms lying insecure in a bedroom. These included an RPG7 Rocket Launcher which was later found to have only a minor fault. Among the dozens of other firearms found at his address were some which had been handed into the police for destruction. Lying around the room on the floor next to weapons such as 7.62 rifles, machine guns, and magnum revolvers, was a large quantity of ammunition for these and other weapons. A 'SEACAT' Missile Launcher was also taken from his home.

Is the grass always greener elsewhere? Guernsey is opening up meetings to the public:

The doors of government will creep open further again next month. In the slow evolution towards open government, the Scrutiny Committee is following in the footsteps of Public Services and the States Assembly and Constitution Committee in allowing the media to sit in on some meetings. Also in February, Environment will take the long-awaited step of making planning decisions in front of the public. Planners have been leading lights on openness in recent months - their website is now something of a treasure trove of information if you know what you are looking for. (5)

But what amazed me was the following sentence:

Is it all enough? No, still the island lags behind Jersey, which has a freedom of information regime.

Jersey has freedom of information guidelines, but these fall far short of the UK. As the Telegraph pointed out in 2008:

The Freedom of Information Act gives journalists and members of the public the right to demand access to public documents in mainland Britain. Jersey, however, has its own independent legal system, with no such freedom of information laws.

In 2000 the States adopted a voluntary Code of Practice on Public Access to Official Information, which states that the public should be given access, "wherever reasonably possible", to information held by the States. However, there is no provision under the Code for people to apply for information held by the police, hospitals, or other public bodies (in the UK all publicly-funded bodies, from the BBC to local councils, are bound by the Freedom of Information Act). The type of information which islanders in Jersey can access is also limited; government committee agendas and minutes should be disclosed, for example, but documents supporting an agenda item do not have to be given out. (6)

It is voluntary, not statutory - hardly a "regime" as such, as like so much else, it depends on the whim of individuals involved. The salaries of top civil servants, for example, have not been revealed as they have been in the UK, and Terry le Sueur only grudgingly revealed information about the range of salaries particular jobs or groups of jobs had. It is a case of getting blood out of a stone, and if the stone in question is hard Jersey granite, as appears to be the case, it is difficult and what should be a simple process is often subjected to endless delay and prevarication.

In the case of the UK, a request was made to Kent County Council regarding the following - under the UK Freedom of Information Law in March 2009:

Please confirm if Kent County Council has ever placed any children into foster care placements in Jersey and/or made any payments to Jersey for foster care? In particular if any children have ever been placed in the Children's Care Home Haut de la Garenne in Jersey? Have any children placed into foster care in any area including any part of the UK, ever been sent there for a holiday or respite?

The reply gave the timetable for a reply:

I acknowledge your request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Assuming we hold this information, I will endeavor to supply the data to you as soon as possible but no later than 6th April 2009 (20 working days from date of receipt).

In fact, Kent Council was not able to give the information because the records for the period after 1990 because the records were not in electronic form, and were poorly kept, after that date, they confirmed there were no placements. As far as Jersey is concerned, of course, the record keeping at Haut de la Garenne was also extremely poor and incomplete for earlier periods; this seems to be endemic for that period. But what is striking is that in the UK a request could be made, and a timetable placed for that data to be given.

Jersey has been trying to get a Freedom of Information law for ages. Draft legislation exists in a PDF form, but costs have been cited as a factor for delays. In 2008, the Telegraph noted that Jersey "has now drafted its own Freedom of Information Act". It is still there, still waiting.

Deputy Roy le Hérissier has stepped in after a committee said it could not take responsibility for implementing Jersey's Freedom of Information law. He is calling on the chief minister's department to draw up a plan for enforcing the new law. The St Saviour deputy is suggesting an implementation plan be drawn up to ensure the law is "not buried". (8)

It is another case of "poor practice", and the disparity between local laws, which are mired in a swamp of delays and petty fiefdoms, and the Island as an international finance centre, where legislation is continually been refined to make sure the Island complies with the best standards. We badly need laws which are as up to the mark for the local community as for the international community - what might be termed "law harmonisation"! We simply can't have "world class" finance laws without "world class" local laws.


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