Monday, 28 May 2012

An Eye on the States

More Hansard is now online, and this gives me the opportunity to look at the Draft Connétable (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Jersey) Law.

What this law set out to do was to repeal the policing functions of the Connétables, and to empower a Procureur du Bien Public to deputise for a Connétable in certain circumstances, such as if the Connétable was incapacitated with a long term illness (as happened in Grouville), "to remove certain other functions from the Connétables and to make ancillary and consequential amendments"

It's curious that apart from the Constable of St John, the only other members to vote against it were the left-leaning members of the Chamber, the very people one might expect to welcome a reduction in the powers of the Constable. Those voting against the motion were:

Connétable of St. John
Deputy G.P. Southern (H)
Deputy M. Tadier (B)
Deputy T.M. Pitman (H)
Deputy M.R. Higgins (H)

The Constable of Trinity, John Gallichan, who is also Chairman, Comité des Connétables, brought the proposition. He noted that in 1998, the Defence Committee (now incorporated in Home Affairs) brought a proposition which approved the following proposition arising from a working party report made in 1996:

- Establishing by law the office of Chef de Police for each Parish to have charge of Honorary Police within the Parish
- The Connétables ceasing cease to fulfil an operational policing role but retain overall responsibility for the effective and efficient policing of their Parish
- the merging of the Centeniers Association and the Association of Vingteniers and Constables Officers
-  that the senior Procureur du Bien Public in the Parish should be empowered by law to deputise for the Connétable in the event of the latter's
incapacity or absence from the Island.

But while the proposition was made, no legislation has taken place. In the meantime, the Constables have deliberately chosen not to undertake any actual operational policing, in line with the spirit of the proposition.

The Comité des Connétables has repeatedly inquired when legislation could be approved to complete the States decision, for example, to empower the senior Procureur du Bien Public to act in the Connétables' absence. But this can only be done if the Connétables operational policing powers are removed.

He noted that this was also tied in with the position of the Constables in the States:

Meanwhile we have continued to debate the composition of this Assembly and whether the Connétables should remain in the States. The rationale which came out of Clothier 1 for the Connétables to relinquish operational policing is to remove the political policemen so that the States is a true democracy. Thus, if the States decide that the Connétables should no longer be Members of the Assembly then there is no reason to remove the operational policing powers.

In the debate which followed, some pertinent points were raised, as well as some extraordinary ones. I am not going to look at every speech, but I'm going to pick a few of the highlights which bear consideration.

The Constable of St John, Phil Rondel, said that "my biggest concern is that we are seeing the creep from the Parishes to the centre. I will name just a few, not in any particular order...     We have seen a big move to the Island-wide rating system plus the electoral system and obviously welfare having now been administered by the centre from Social Security. The latter is not working as well as it is supposed to and I have seen people in St. John's sleeping rough in the bus shelter through lack of support from Social Security and that really worries me."

I did wonder why, if he is a Constable, who is also a States Member, he didn't tell us what he had done about this - whom he had contacted. Had he been in touch with Social Security? Had he spoken to Senator Le Gresley, the Minister? It seems curious to highlight a deficiency of income support, and get be an elected States member and do nothing about it. Or perhaps he did, and is too modest to mention that? And if he did, what was the result? This does seem to be raising an issue along the way which is important, but should have been dealt with elsewhere, perhaps raising the matter in question time, not as an example of "creep from Parishes to the centre".

He sees the removal of the Policing powers as one step closer to removing the Constables from the States, but he is pretty well the only one who views it that way:

There is little left under direct Parish control; probably dog licences and Parish Rates Committee and several other small areas which at the moment do not come under the centre. To go down the road of removing further powers of the Constable will open the door for the Parish system to be moved to the centre at the stroke of a pen or more likely the press of a button. At a time when some Members in this Chamber would like to see the Constables out of the States, this law and adopting it today is playing straight into their hands.

Sarah Ferguson seems to have been the only member who has consulted with Parishioners on the matter, and thought this was appropriate to voice their concerns. She did vote for the proposition, nevertheless, with regard to consultation, perhaps this should have been wider. I can remember one occasion only when a former Constable asked me for an opinion in response to a question, because - as he said - Constables should consult Parishioners on matters like that. The fact of an election in the offing may well have meant that "consultation" suddenly went down well with the electorate!

I have received a number of representations from the public regarding this proposition. I quote from the messages I have received. "Given that the office of Chef de Police is now firmly established and it is proposed that the Chef relinquishes certain duties, will the Connétables be allocating part of their salaries to the Chefs in light of their reduced responsibilities?" "Have the Connétables consulted with their parishioners regarding this proposition?" This particular individual says that: "My understanding is that the Chefs and Procureurs have been consulted but not the Parish". There was a duty of Connétables - I do not know whether it was ever written and it has been neglected of late - but they have the power to call Parish Assemblies to discuss significant matters so that they know the thoughts of their parishioners when they come in to the States and why have they not been doing this?

Montfort Tadier gave a very rambling speech, which digressed onto all kinds of subject which where nothing to do with subject to hand. He should perhaps try honing his skills by listening to "Just A Minute", where deviation from the subject matter loses you points. He made a couple of interesting points though. Firstly, he wondered if it was just Phil Rondel among the Constables who disagreed with the  Comité des Connétables on this, and thought it would be useful to know "how many of the Constables support this proposition?" He did also address the parishioner whose concerns were raised by Sarah Ferguson:

The point, of course, about salaries is a spurious one because the Connétables are not remunerated for their Parish duties. It is an honorary position; they get remunerated for their position in the States which is quite right. Any States Member should be paid for their job as a States Member; that is my opinion. I do not think we are delegating any of the States duties to a Chef de Police or to a Procureur du Bien Public and I would be very surprised in fact if those in those positions were asking to be remunerated. Certainly that would be a departure from Parish traditions.

And thirdly, he asked a question about something which did not seem explicit in the legislation:

My question is will it still be possible for a Constable to carry a warrant card if we are removing the notional powers? This is where I disagree in principle with 1.3. The Constable of St. Mary is grimacing but yesterday one of the Articles that was passed was to do with impersonating a police officer. Now, if one is not a police officer, one has had all one's power removed, what possible use can one have for carrying a warrant card which identifies one as an Honorary Police Officer?

But along the way, there seemed a misunderstanding of the training received by Honorary Police, and a diversion into how long one might expect to wait at a Parish Hall inquiry - he suggested it could often be as much as three hours, and whether on the spot fines might be better; none of that had much relevance to the subject under debate. When he did return to that, he thought it should be rejected because it didn't go far enough - the Constables should not be members of the States, so there is no need for them to lose policing powers:

The reason I am saying this is because one of the reasons one might want to reject this proposition is that it does not go far enough. My point is that at the moment I am hesitating because I am thinking, is it worth supporting this proposition on the basis that it is a step in the right direction, it is some kind of slow evolution or is it worth rejecting because it does not do the whole job?

On the matter of the warrant card, Tim Le Cocq, the Attorney General, gave this legal advice in reply to Deputy Tadier:

In my view, the existence of a warrant card, as opposed to some other form of identification, is a document which is capable of saying that the person holding it is able to exercise policing powers. If this legislation is passed, in my view, there should be no warrant cards held by Connétables.

Gerard Baudains raised the point about who would watch the Procureur if the Procureur deputised for the Constable:

I will not go over the meaning of life and the various other. [Laughter] just heard recently. I am generally relaxed about this law. I do, however, have one small concern and that is traditionally the Procureur du Bien Public keeps a watching eye over the Connétables, especially in financial matters. Now if a Connétable was to be indisposed for some time and the senior Procureur was taking over his duties for a considerable period of time, who would be watching the watcher?

In an extraordinary speech, Deputy Mike Higgins argued that he would not vote for the proposition because it was in French and he didn't understand French.  It's amazing he didn't ask Deputy Tadier to translate for him; after all, there is expertise there in the House, and he had ample time to get a translation, if he doesn't trust the notes setting out what the law intends, which are in any case in English. This must be the oddest reason for voting against a proposition that I have seen for a long time.

Not only do we not have marked-up copies of the legislation that is being amended, a number of the laws being amended are written in French; the law of the 1853, 1797, 1864 and so on. I have had a look at these on the Legal Information Board. I have not got a clue what they say. As someone who does not speak French or read French, I have no idea of the consequences of the amendments that we are making and I think it is bad law if States Members are sitting here going through debating things for which they have not got a clue about possible unintended consequences, to quote the Constable of St. Peter. Therefore, I will not be supporting this legislation. If I do not understand its context and what it is about I will not support it.

Geoff Southern thought that the Constables needed more reform, and it didn't go far enough. Quite how some change along the right lines can be "ducking the issue" is another matter. I suspect that Geoff's first suggestion is the real reason, and he also seems unaware of how much reform has taken place behind the scenes.

Given that choice, I am looking at this proposition saying: "Right, I think I will vote against this, because I do not want them to give up their police powers; they can have it as long as they get out of this Chamber." [Laughter] But no, that is not my real reasoning. My real reasoning is that yesterday we wasted an opportunity to have proper reform of the 13 police forces on the Island. Today, equally, we are passing up that chance. This is ducking the issue, I think, and so I will be voting against this the way I voted against the previous proposition because the 2 go together and I cannot support either of them.

Deputy Jackie Hilton of St. Helier asked a very pertinent question about criminal checks. After all, if the Proceurer is able to deputise for the Constable, they should have the same degree of scrutiny applied to their past:

I believe the Constables, when they stand for election, do have a criminal record check. I would like clarification whether that process will continue in the future. I know that they are going to be removed from their policing role but will the criminal record check still take place? Also, in view of the enhanced role of the Senior Procureur, could I know whether the Procureurs at the moment who are in very important public positions - and I think it is important for the public that they know exactly who they are voting into these roles - currently have criminal record checks and if they do not, would the Comité des Connétables or the Parishes consider making this mandatory in the future?

Steve Pallett, Constable of St Brelade thought the time was right to clear a few misconceptions that had been aired about the lack of professionalism of the honorary police. It's not directly relevant to the debate, but worth stating, as I suspect that quite a few people's views (and States members, judging by this debate) are stuck in the past, where an Honorary Police was elected at a Parish Hall, and picked up things as they went along. That is no longer the case.

I have heard a lot mentioned in the last couple of days about the professionalism of the Honorary Police and I have shaken my head time and time again. The fact is all of the Honorary Police are trained. They carry out a foundation course and it is carried out to a high standard. Only one out of I think the last 230 or 240 officers that have come into the Honorary Police Force have not been trained in the foundation course, which is the basic course. I have done it myself. It is a perfect sounding board to get a start in the Honorary Police and to learn how to carry out your duties. That again comes down to what the Honorary Police do. We are not a play police, we are not front line police officers, we carry out more often than not community duties but, yes, we do carry out some duties sometimes in St. Helier and St. Brelade on a Friday night that are a little bit nearer to what the States Police do, but generally speaking we are not front line police. We are not trained to the level that they are and I do not think anybody expects us to be trained to that level. We have a role to play in this Island and I think we carry it out to what I would consider to be a very professional standard.

Senator Ian Le Marquand wanted to just highlight that one over role was removed from the Constable by this proposition:

What Article 1 does is twofold. It firstly removes the operational policing functions as many other Members have said but it does something else; it also removes the role of prosecutor which technically could still remain with the Connétable. What remains is the supervisory role and that is expressly set out in the law. I believe that this creates a situation which parallels the current relationship of the Minister for Home Affairs to the States of Jersey Police and of the Minister for Home Affairs, in particular, to the Chief Officer of Police.

Constable Deidre Mezbourian of St. Lawrence highlighted the operational policing functions, and why they should be removed from the Constables:

I would like to refer Members to is what those powers and duties are. They are listed on page 5 of the proposition and they are keeping the peace; powers of search, examination and investigation; arrest and granting of bail; conducting Parish Hall Inquiries and charging suspected offenders and presenting accused persons before the criminal courts. Clearly, it is inappropriate for a Connétable, as a Member of the States, to have those policing powers. I urge Members to support the proposition to remove those powers today.

Constable Simon Crowcroft of St. Helier rather neatly took Philip Rondels argument - it has worked well for hundreds of years so why change the position of Constables - and inverted it - the role has survived because it has evolved and adapted:

The Constable of St. John said that the Parish system has worked well for hundreds of years and we should not change it and I would simply argue that the reason it has worked well for hundreds of years is because it has changed regularly

He also addressed Sarah Ferguson's concerns, and in doing so, gave an insight into when Parishioners tend to be consulted on these kinds of matters; apparently, it's up to the Constable.

[Senator Ferguson] did make a couple of interesting points. She asked why the Constables had not consulted the parishioners on this matter. It is something which comes up from time to time in the Assembly. The Constables are asked why they have not taken a matter to a Parish Assembly and it is a judgment call for the Constables about whether they feel a matter has generated sufficient concern out there in the public mind to be brought to an Assembly. Perhaps this is something that should have been taken to an Assembly. I hold my hand up on that one because I did not think of doing it.

Meanwhile Deputy Trevor Pitman decided that this was being done just to smooth the way for the Electoral Commission to come up with proposals that retain the Constables in the States, and he voted against it on those grounds. Actually, I think he may be partly right. Both the change in the main Police Law, and the possible changes in the position of Constable may have focused the minds of the Constables that this was something which really could not be left on the shelf for much longer - especially when you consider the delay from 1998 to get anything done! But I don't agree with him that's grounds for not making the change; after all, the reasons in 1998 as as valid as today.

I think the one problem with what is being done, the one real reason this has been brought forward now, is to try and cement the Constables' place in the States before we have the Electoral Commission. That is the real reason that it is being done. So I think Members should probably vote accordingly to that reality.

In summing up, the Constable of Trinity addressed some of the points raised:

Deputy Baudains, on the Procureur du Bien Public: obviously it would then go down to the junior Procureur who would keep an eye on financial matters but I think I should bring this forward.

Deputy Hilton: yes, certainly as Connétables, we would have police checks done and now that the Procureur is an elected position, I would expect that also to be carried out but I will make sure that that does get put into statute, that all Procureurs . it is essential, if you think about it, the Procureur is looking after the finances of the Parish so why should you not have a C.R.O. (Criminal Records Office) check done on the Procureur?

And finally, a wry comment for Deputy Higgins:

For Deputy Higgins, I am sorry he cannot speak French. Maybe he can go to the Alliance Français. They do lessons every Thursday morning.

There's a nice codicil in the statement made by Constable John Gallichan just before the final vote which links it a bit of history - not many speeches go back to June 1495!:

Just before we take the vote, Sir, it seems a lot of work has been done. Could I just thank the Law Officers and the Attorney General for his support throughout and also to say that the Charter of Henry VII in June 1495 reflects the pivotal part played by the Connétables in the Island's democratic institutions for over 500 years. The role has included policing of the Parishes but since the States decision of 1998, the Connétables have not performed this operational and policing role. This is another milestone in the evolution of the honorary service and the role of Connétable and it gives me great pleasure to propose it in Third Reading.

And finally, on another matter - the vote also went through on the non-States members in the Electoral Commission.  The States members are Senator Sir Philip Bailhache, Deputy James Baker and Constable Juliette Gallichan.

Deputy Tadier was told off for saying "we have 3 very strong-willed, strong-minded people ...certainly 2 strong-minded people and one person who, when he does come to work, will do what he is told anyway." Trevor Pitman mentioned the same person: "It has to be seen as an absolute nonsense because, with the best will in the world, we have now got 3 members who... well, I do not know one of the members, because again he is not here and he rarely is here, and that is a fact, and yet he is going to sit on an Electoral Commission."

So who is the guilty party who has stepped into the hallowed shoes of Ben Shenton as the individual who vanishes from the States most often? It must surely be Deputy James Baker by a simple process of elimination - "he" rules out Juliette Gallichan, and "will do what he is told anyway" could never by the wildest stretch of the imagination ever refer to Sir Philip Bailhache.

Reg Langlois is always going on to me about whether States members are worth a salary of over £40,000. Certainly for absentee members, I would have to say that he has a point. Perhaps Sir Philip Bailhache could have a quiet but firm word with the errant member in question and the responsibilities of States members.


Anonymous said...

Quoth the Constable of Trinity:

Meanwhile we have continued to debate the composition of this Assembly and whether the Connétables should remain in the States. The rationale which came out of Clothier 1 for the Connétables to relinquish operational policing is to remove the political policemen so that the States is a true democracy.

Ah, the disingenuous Constable Gallichan strikes again. The States would not become a true democracy, because Constables would still combine executive and legislative powers - they would be jury and hangman, rather than judge, jury and hangman. Given that these powers fall into the hands of people who aren't in most cases actually elected, an outside observer would regard this as nearer feudalism than any sort of democracy.

Anonymous said...

Whilst I totally disagree with the Constable of St John, I would confirm about the person in the bus shelter who has now been found temporary accomodation as well as employment. The Constable playing a large role in both.

TonyTheProf said...

Good for Phil Rondel. But if Social Security had let the person down, he should really raise the matter in the States in a Question.