Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Care Inquiry Budgets

Care Inquiry Budgets

Looking at the votes, it is notable that most of those voting against the proposition were Ministers, and if they had good points to make, I think we have to respect that. I personally was glad of the vote in favour, although we have to accept there will be consequences.

Incidentally, where was Andrew Lewis, who was just “not present” and presumably had been present before the vote was taken, as he was not “en default”? It would be nice to know which way he would have voted.

But it is clear that better controls on costs need to be put in place. As John Le Fondre pointed out:

“I am reminded of a discussion or a meeting, I think between the Chief Minister, possibly the Minister for Treasury and Resources, and myself and I think there was a representative - I will think of the name - I think it was Jim Diamond Consulting Limited many years ago. I do not know if the name is quite right, but that particular individual had a reputation and a career in analysing and digesting legal costs and the legal profession did not like him very much because he had some success. All I would suggest, perhaps to the Chief Minister, is perhaps to get the equivalent of that individual or that company in on a regular basis, (a) to monitor the costs going forward and (b) to look at the historical basis”

John Le Fondre voted in favour, but he spoke of the way there seemed to be a “feeding frenzy”:

“The fact that we have fully qualified lawyers effectively reading out typed documents to a hearing - that may be the process, but my goodness, that does not sound an appropriate way of dealing with things, it is a feeding frenzy”

And it was Eddie Noel who really highlighted the problems in this regard:

"The committee allowed for hundreds of thousands of pages of written evidence to be read into the inquiry. Let me explain what that means in reality to the Members of this Assembly, to the media and to the public so they can understand why these inquiry costs spiralled out of control and will continue to do so after today if we accept this proposition. To “read in” means exactly what it says: hundreds of thousands of redacted written documents are physically read by a number of lawyers to the committee, recorded by 2 stenographers, backed up by 2 technicians, costing probably in excess of £10,000 per day with the transcripts typed-up and posted on to the inquiry’s website, when simply they could have been taken as read, scanned and loaded up on to the website."

This approach seems to be to have been madness! The written questions and answers to the States are not, as far as I know, read out in the Assembly. That’s the difference between written and oral questions. But here we have lawyers reading out documents. And if they have to be read out because of a legal technicality, why on earth get lawyers to do it? Why not get a clerk?

Eddie Noel also spoke about the inquiry protocol regarding these redacted comments:

"One example is the protocol on the redaction of documents, which required the States lawyers and the solicitors to the inquiry to redact or edit out irrelevant material, for example the names of innocent third parties unconnected with the inquiry. Only after that process of redaction was done did the inquiry’s solicitors consider what documents they wanted to use, and that was usually only about 10 per cent; 90 per cent of these carefully-redacted documents went into the bin, never to be seen again. This happened for 9 months, wasting huge amounts of legal time and money. The States lawyers complained regularly but to no effect, until they demanded a public hearing before the panel on 15th October 2014. The panel stated that a new redaction protocol would be coming out within a week but, in fact, it was not until 5 months later, in March of this year, that the new protocol came into effect."

“I am told that we had some 24 U.K. lawyers staying in hotels on the Island, all at the inquiry’s expense, to redact these documents"

The panel seem to be very slack, both in their consideration of costs, and in implementing new protocols. And in the meantime, it was a nice little earner for those 24 UK lawyers, which has only just been plugged – probably just as they run out of most of the documents to process!

And Eddie Noel had a further revelation which also shows us something of the way the Committee looks at money. No one knows what might have been, but I suspect matters would have been very different with Sally Bradley at the helm. This comment by Eddie Noel, which I assume is true, beggars belief. It reminds me of the legal shenanigans of Bleak House.

"My trust in the Committee of Inquiry was shaken and then shattered over the second half of 2014. Shaken when the committee in the summer of last year via the Greffier contacted the Chief Minister to ask for their own remuneration to be increased substantially before they had even heard from a single victim.”

“I attended a meeting in my capacity as Assistant Minister for Treasury and Resources together with the former Minister for Treasury and Resources, former Treasurer, the Greffier and the Chief Minister. We were informed that the committee had asked for a substantial increase because some of the lawyers involved would be earning more than them. What sort of message are we to take from that? I think it is fair to say that we were all disappointed at the stance of the committee and, from memory, I believe they even threatened to resign if we did not increase their fees. Reluctantly, we agreed to do so, we met them somewhere in the middle on the strict condition that the committee gave a firm undertaking to deliver their inquiry within the £6 million budget and to report monthly on their costs. "

Now these matters seem to be to be much more substantial that the projections of costs given by Philip Bailhache and Susie Pinel, because unlike their speeches, Eddie Noel is explaining where the money went – how it was gobbled up.

So I can understand that he had good cause for voting against. But I do have some questions to ask about the timing of this information:

Why was the increase in the fees not reported on far more publically at the time? Why wait until now, when this happened over nine months ago? I can perceive that there may have been a worry that the inquiry might be damaged by a focus on the purely pecuniary matters, but it might have shamed them into looking at the public service element of an inquiry. If they had resigned, their reputations would have certainly been in tatters, and their bluff should have been called.

And why was the change in redaction process so late, and why were they allowed to make a promise to change the protocol in a few weeks (verbal or written?) and then get away with not making changes until much later? Why not protest in January about that failure – and make that public as well, which again might shame them into changing matters sooner.

It is good that this information has seen the light of day, and Eddie Noel was right to mention it. But it is a shame he, or any of the others involved, only decided to share it with us so late in the day.


Ex-Senator Stuart Syvret said...

The "reading-in" of evidentiary documents and of statements would make sense - does make sense - in a public inquiry in which (as is usual) a process of cross-examination is in place.

Thus, documents which are "read-in" without challenge from ether side are henceforth taken to be uncontested. In that sense, "reading-in" serves an important purpose accruing the factual foundations of inquiry.

But in the absence of cross-examination - as is the case under the bizarre and anomalous protocols of the Jersey child-abuse public inquiry - one has to ask what purpose "reading-in" is supposed to serve? documents "read-in" in the absence of cross-examination and of challenge cannot have the standing of uncontested evidence. Thus, in future, witnesses and parties of whatever kind, can simply say to the public inquiry or its findings, "well, that is all a load of garbage. You base that on the assumption that X or Y evidence was accurate, but it was not, and it would have been challenged as inaccurate had cross-examination been allowed."

So - for all the battles, arguments and difficult funding decisions - anyone who doesn't like the public inquiries assertions, reports or findings will - frankly rightly - be able to say "it's rubbish and has no legal standing or credibility because it took in vast amounts of what it deemed "evidence" but which was nonsense and which was not able to be challenged."

The Jersey Way does it again.

Stuart Syvret

James said...

Why was the increase in the fees not reported on far more publically at the time? Why wait until now, when this happened over nine months ago?

The magic words General Election might have influenced matters.