The background to the questions is straightforward enough. Three police officers have recently been cleared of disciplinary allegations by an independent Tribunal. The Tribunal followed an independent investigation by Hampshire Police. As it happens the allegations concerned their actions in a high-profile case during which the actions of the same officers were criticised by the Courts. Not surprising therefore that there has been some quite legitimate interest in how these apparently conflicting outcomes can be reconciled. Step forward the Minister for Home Affairs. Who could be better placed to explain things to States Members and the public at large? Except that “explaining things” is not exactly a Le Marquand strong point.
On 29th January 2013 questions from States Members brought little information from the Minister. Le Marquand refused to release the written judgement of the Tribunal or to provide any meaningful information. He did however offer the following in response to a written question. In his answer he said “the public can be fully confident that the issues were properly investigated by an outside police force.” Not much “wriggle room” there you might think. Well, with hindsight that appears to be depend on the slipperiness of the wriggler and just how much he is allowed to get away with.
No sooner was the ink dry on the Ministers refusal to release the Tribunal judgement than the same document was leaked to a local leading Blogsite and PUBLISHED. (I hope nobody is ever foolish enough to trust the Jersey Government with any real secrets given their poor record on holding on to the meagre secrets they actually possess, but I digress.)
The published judgement revealed that the hearing was surprised that the Jersey Authorities, including the Police, had apparently failed to fully cooperate with the Disciplinary Investigation which they had themselves commissioned. This failure to cooperate had hindered the investigation and the work of the Tribunal. Additionally, there was a recorded concern at the accuracy of some of the typed, but not signed, witness statements which the hearing was asked to take into account.
No surprise therefore that at the next available sitting of the States interested Members invited the Minister to re-visit his earlier answers and to provide more information. A fair and reasonable exercise of the democratic process you might think. Well not according to the democratic ideals of Senator Le Marquand. Astonished back-benchers were told that their questions “should not have been asked” and were, they were repeatedly told “outrageous” and a “waste of time.” (Readers might be able to form their own view as to who was actually being “outrageous” in these exchanges, but worse was to follow.)
If on the other hand you think that the right to vote is not in itself a guarantee of democracy and for any system to be genuinely democratic there needs to be active processes which include checks and balances, and proper accountability, then you might have a problem.
So what is going on here? Has the Minister simply “lost the plot” "gone native" in the police and totally forgotten that it is for the Force to be accountable to him and for him to be accountable to the States? Or is there yet another “cover up” with some bigger secret waiting to be revealed? It is difficult to be sure, but there are some basic facts which, while not providing all of the answers, at least give some of the background.
Le Marquand was selected to be Minister for Home Affairs by the new administration which came into office in 2007. It is now 2013. Having been rejected for any other significant position in Government he hangs on in the first and probably the only position he will hold in the Government of the Island. Like his predecessors he is involved in the selection and appointment of senior police officers, and like his predecessors he follows UK guidelines which encourage such appointments to be made on a fixed term basis, usually of no more than five years. The reasons recorded in the UK for this policy are in the public domain and make reference to such issues as “unrecognised staleness” and the danger of Chief Officers potentially becoming too close to other senior figures and members of their own staff. Is it time for Le Marquand to take a long look at himself in this context, or if he will not do so, for somebody else to do it for him? Is there anybody out there who seriously thinks that he is now adding value to the governance of the Island by his increasingly strange behaviour in the States and elsewhere? Or is he making us all a laughing stock as he slips further towards the edge?
More to the point, can Jersey’s democratic institutions prove themselves capable of dealing with the Le Marquand problem or are they just spellbound, waiting in trepidation for the next twist in the downward spiral which is the governance of Jerseys Home Affairs Portfolio?
If it were not so serious it would be funny and entertaining. But it is serious, and nobody should be laughing.