Wednesday, 3 June 2009

COMPLAINTS BOARD!!!!! You must be joking

Jersey’s Administrative Decisions Review Board was largely the creation of Jersey Lawyer Senator Reg Jeune back in the very dark ages and he always resisted the notion that the Board should be empowered to overturn Government Decisions. Thus the Review Board was always a toothless body and was really just a bit of window dressing. It was never designed or intended to be effective and was always a pale shadow of the Ombudsman original from Scandinavia.

Under Deputy Roy Le Herissier’s Chairmanship the PPC reviewed the whole process in 2005/6 but failed to change anything very much except that it became known as a Complaints Board. It has remained as a very ineffective tribunal – not helped by the predictably safe people who sit on it – and Chaired by the ultra conservative Solicitor Carole Canavan who recently declared that it was not even constituted to consider Human Rights violation arguments from complainants!

On average the Board receives about a dozen complaints each year and upholds hardly any at all and Solicitor Canavan always reports how busy they are!!!!!

Compare this with the Gibraltar Ombudsman who dealt with 412 complaints and 213 enquiries in 2008 from a population of just 28,000 and according to the most recent report there these are mostly to do with Governmental maladministration on the basis of;

“Bias, neglect, inattention, delay, incompetence, inaptitude, perversity, turpitude, arbitrateness etc.”

This year in Gibraltar the Annual Report (actually handed out on the street) includes a Disc of all Annual Reports since 1998 – compare that with the publication of information in Jersey and the labyrinth of the website where the Greffe is hidden as a “non executive department”!

On average in Gibraltar, about 50 Complaints are upheld each year – about 45% of all cases that make it through the screening process.
In the UK about 35% of cases are upheld by the Government Ombudsman and there are many specialist Ombudsman Offices for specific activities – like Local Government or Insurance Services.

In Finland the Ombudsman can order a Police investigation, reprimand an official or order a prosecution.
In Norway the Ombudsman can take up issues even without a complaint being made.

So it seems that in Jersey the big public complaint should be about the Complaints Board itself and the sooner we dump the current charade into the Hurd Deep the better.

“The Voice” invited Deputies Roy Le Herissier and Bob Hill to comment.
Deputy Le Herissier’s reply follows and he corrected some of the complicated history of the current procedures and his role and he offers suggestions for further reform of the system.

Bob Hill’s response will be published tomorrow and he offers specific criticisms following the recent “Saval” Complaints Board which we attended and tried to report on and to make video recordings of the proceedings. He also proposes reforms.

This is an important dialogue for anybody interested in Human Rights in Jersey and the provision of an effective Complaints procedure against the administrative decisions and abuses of government.
We must all lobby for reform of this absurdly ineffective process.
Submitted by Thomas Wellard.

Submission of Deputy Roy Le Herissier.

First, a revised history. The Reforms to the Complaints Board were carried
out under Senator Lakeman's chairmanship of PPC by a sub committee
consisting of Deputies Hill and Scott Warren.
I was a member of that Committee and supported the reforms.
When Senator Lakeman left the States I took over but because of other
demands on the Committee the reforms were promoted by the new PPC Commitee
under Constable Gray.The original reforms were put forward together with
amendments from Deputy Hill which allowed for an Inquiry to be reopened
should new evidence come forward.
The main issue when the review took place was the disregard of decisions by
committees. There was always a reluctance-mirrored in most systems-to allow
a non elected person (an Ombudsman) or a non -elected group to override the
will of the Legislature.
That is why such bodies can only recommend. On reflection, I think we should
be much more emphatic and that where a Mnister rejects a finding,the PPSC
should bring a Proposition to the State asking the Assembly to approve the
Board's findings.
Human Rights was not an issue when we reported and I think this has to be
revisited. However, the Complaints Board is not a Court of Law . Unless we
invest it with such powers, it will always be reluctant to go there.
However, that has to be reviewed .
Many of the complaints were about Planning decisions and these were often
rejected, to the chagrin of complainants, because the Board was not a second
review body for Planning issues-its focus was maladministration.
Gibralter-we were aware of its active Ombudsman.
We found that a lot of complaints that would come to members in Jersey went
straight to the Ombudsman in Gibralter. They have a much smaller
legislature(13 I think).
The other major reform was to withdraw the discretion of the Greffier as to
whether or not to accept cases. Instead this was passed to the Chairman who
was also given the role of dealing with complaints at the first stage to see
whether more informal and/or quicker resolution was available.
However, I accept your view that the Board's role and findings need to be
pulicised much more energetically.
I think one of the real frustrations complainants have is that they expect
the Board to essentially be a Court of Law and not the half way house it is.

In summary, the Board's work needs to be energetically publicised, the
States needs a more effective mechanism to deal with Ministers who ignore
its findings and we need to see if the kind of powers possessed by the
Finnish Ombudsman could be introduced here.

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